Young Audiences is on a Mission to Keep Kids in School with Two Grants Totaling $600,000 from The Princeton Area Community Foundation and the Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation


Date: October 26, 2018

Young Audiences is on a Mission to Keep Kids in School with Two Grants Totaling $600,000 from The Princeton Area Community Foundation and the Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation

Young Audiences’ ARTS LAB will harness the power of the arts to reduce chronic absenteeism in Mercer and Ocean Counties

PRINCETON, N.J. — Young Audiences Arts for Learning  (YA), the leading provider of arts education in the region, has been awarded a $300,000 ALL KIDS THRIVE grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation and a matching grant from The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation to help reduce chronic absenteeism in two New Jersey schools. YA has provided transformative arts experiences to thousands of children in challenged schools for over 45 years and is proud to be part of this bold, new initiative to transform the lives of young people and increase their chances of success in school and throughout their lives.

After a rigorous application process, Young Audiences is one of ten organizations selected to receive this prestigious award. The grant supports a five-year program, allowing for deep connections to be made with a greater focus on impact.

In Mercer County, more than one in ten students are chronically absent from school. These students miss an average of two days a month or about 10 percent of the school year. The Community Foundation’s All Kids Thrive Grant Initiative supports Young Audiences to bring ARTS LAB, an intervention model program to G.E. Wilson Elementary in Hamilton Township School District in New Jersey.

“This a momentous occasion,” shared Senator Shirley Turner. “Education for ALL children is critically important and it’s wonderful to see organizations working together to eliminate barriers for children to be present at school.”

From left to Right: Liz Winter-Kuwornu (YA’s Education Operations Director), Bobbi Panfili (Principal, G.E. Wilson Elementary), Michele Russo (YA’s President & CEO), Jeffrey M. Vega (PACF President & CEO) Ann Betterton (YA’s Director of Development), Dr. Scott Rocco (Superintendent, Hamilton Township), Denyce Mylson (YA’s Director of Marketing & PR).

“Studies show that arts education has positive effects on students – it helps boost school attendance, increases critical thinking skills, and inspires creativity,” said Jeffrey M. Vega, President & CEO of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “We believe the Young Audiences program at the G.E. Wilson Elementary School will be transformative. We are also pleased that the staff at Young Audiences was able to leverage our grant to obtain a matching grant from the Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation to replicate the program in Toms River. We expect this work to make a difference in the lives of children.”

“As an educator and supporter of the arts, I am excited for the partnership between G. E. Wilson and Young Audiences to continue through the ARTS LAB program,” said Jamie Jones, Wilson’s K-5 Resource Educator. “The arts play countless roles in education for learners of all ages, and I look forward to improving our motivation, teamwork, attendance, and academic achievement with the fun and unique experiences available to the students of G. E. Wilson through the ARTS LAB program!”

Young Audiences’ ARTS LAB model will address pedagogical, classroom, and student challenges through four unique arts education programs. YA’s team of professional teaching artists will provide monthly assembly performances that complement academic studies, a long-term theatre residency that teaches language arts concepts through improvisation and drama in grades 2-5, a family arts and creativity program, and a professional learning initiative where a master teaching artist helps teachers integrate the arts into other teaching practice and the curriculum.

“George E. Wilson Elementary School is a large and very diverse Title I school.  As a staff, we are always looking for ways to expand our students’ experiences and opportunities,” shared Bobbie Panfili, the school’s principal. “Our longstanding partnership with Young Audiences has allowed us to do just that, while teaching us how to better infuse the arts into instruction.”

“There are no words to say just how excited and grateful we are to the Princeton Area Community Foundation for this grant opportunity,” Panfili added. “It will allow us to monitor the positive impact the arts have on a not so traditional area – helping to fight chronic absenteeism. Wilson students respond to the arts!  All students respond to the arts!  They are a universal connector and ignite learning! You can’t go wrong!  We are thrilled!”

From left to right: Michele Russo (YA’s President & CEO), Jeremy Grunin, (President, Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation), Heather Barberi (Executive Director, Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation), Ann Betterton (YA’s Director of Development), Liz Winter-Kuwornu (YA’s Education & Operations Director).

The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, a private family philanthropic foundation serving the Central Jersey Shore, is aligned with the growing need to address chronic absenteeism in Ocean County, where 15% of K-12 students are chronically absent. Grunin agreed to match The Princeton Area Community Foundation’s grant with a $300,000 donation to Young Audiences to duplicate the program and bring the ARTS LAB model to the students in Toms River, New Jersey.

“One of my primary objectives as superintendent of Toms River Regional Schools has been to reduce chronic absenteeism, as studies have shown just how detrimental it is to a child’s education and future prospects” said Superintendent David Healy. “While we’ve made major strides in that arena, being able to partner with Young Audiences and one of our district’s most staunch supporters– the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation– to further combat chronic absenteeism through the arts is a remarkable opportunity and one for which we’re greatly appreciative. This multi-year project will not only benefit Silver Bay Elementary School; it will impact our entire district and the Toms River community for years to come.”

“We are so excited to partner with Young Audiences and the Toms River Regional Schools to bring ARTS LAB to Silver Bay Elementary. This program was a slam dunk for us as it hits all three pillars of our foundation – the arts, education and healthcare. ARTS LAB infuses the arts into the classroom and improves the attendance and socio-emotional health of students. Better attendance in school leads to a more successful future. This is a win for all involved and we are confident the impact will be extremely positive, creating a stronger community and economy,” Jeremy Grunin, President, Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation

“We are honored to have received these long-term grant opportunities from both the Princeton Area Community Foundation and the Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation to execute this essential work in Hamilton and Toms River,” shared Young Audiences President and CEO, Michele Russo. “We look forward to working closely with our partner schools to infuse a comprehensive complement of arts programming through the ARTS LAB model. “With the district-wide support of Superintendents Dr. Scott Rocco in Hamilton and David M. Healy in Toms River, we are capitalizing on a team effort to effect change. We are confident that this evidence based approach will result in reduced chronic absenteeism, improved student achievement, increased socio-emotional learning, and a strengthened school community.”


About Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania

Founded in 1973, Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania is the premier arts-in-education resource in the region, providing high-quality performances and artist-in-residence programs to schools in all 21 counties of New Jersey and the 7 easternmost counties of Pennsylvania. Young Audiences’ extensive professional artist roster represents all art forms—from dance and theater to music, language and visual arts. Since its founding, the organization has reached over 13 million children with essential arts education experiences.

A not-for-profit organization, Young Audiences’ programs are accessible to all socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, and geographic communities, and are designed to strengthen the arts in schools, meet local and state curriculum standards, involve families in arts activities, and enrich cultural life in New Jersey and Pennsylvania communities.

Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania is the first arts education organization designated as a major service organization by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and, as part of the national network of Young Audiences, Inc., was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. Young Audiences programs are made possible in part through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. Additional funding comes from foundations, corporations and generous individuals. To learn more, visit To be “social” with us, join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @YANJEPA and on Instagram @young_audiences_njepa.


Denyce Mylson

Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania

609-243-9000 x202

[email protected]