‘Project Create’ is a family affair in Mountain Home, Arkansas
‘Project Create' is a family affair in Mountain Home, Arkansas
By: Major Frank Duracher
Combine innovative music and arts instruction with high-octane corps day camp activities and you have "Project Create," a five-week smorgasbord for kids that is adding to the corps numbers and public awareness of the Army's presence in the community. It has also proved to be a terrific public relations coup for The Salvation Army in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and just what the doctor ordered by the Advisory Board.
Scripture tells us to make a joyful noise and to create things for God and His glory; hence the name Project Create.
The five-week summer music and arts camps are designed as an immersion experience in music, theatre, dance, and art. Through Bible stories, music lessons, theatre games, arts, crafts, and other interactive curriculum, students not only experience and develop their skills in the arts, but are learning vital life-skills hopefully beneficial as adults.
And, they seem to have a blast doing it!
Arriving in Mountain Home in the Summer of 2020, Major John Robbins reports that no children were attending any of the corps Sunday or weekly programs. But as a result of two summers of Project Create and one school year of a similar ministry, "Kids Club," 12 children continue a connection to the corps, with five students returning this past summer—and 10 "new" children meeting the Army for the first time during the recently-completed 2022 version.
Further, the 2022 version of Project Create saw an increase in enrollment by twenty percent over the previous summer.
Project Create is the brainchild of Savannah Robbins, assisted by her sister, Beccah, and their parents. The Robbins Girls are daughters of Majors John & Michelle Robbins, who support the initiative, now in its second summer. In fact, Major Michelle is a former kindergarten teacher, and lends her expertise in controlling behavior and promoting excellent learning skills for 27 children. Major John's technical prowess is utilized at the audio-visual keyboard.
Savannah writes the curriculum for Project Create, with brainstorming sessions with her mom. Savannah laughs when she relates how "I come up with all these grandiose ideas, and Mom says, ‘Now Savannah, that's great, but let's be practical!'"
Fortunately, most of Savannah's ideas are not only good, but the kids also love them.
For instance, the 2022 version of Project Create was built on a weekly movie theme that the children would be familiar with (Ice Age, The Wizard Of Oz, Spiderman, etc.). Scripture lessons have a connection to each week's theme, as well as the week's craft and even each afternoon's snack—which the students make themselves!
The "school" is divided into three age groups: Bigs, Mids, and Littles. While all three groups are alike in much of the day's activities, by necessity some classes, music instruction for instance, must be adjusted. Bigs are in the brass band; Mids learn to play the ukulele; Littles are taught music notes on recorders.
Each day begins with Morning Manna (Bible stories and "Krazy Praze" singing and aerobics), then moves on to Music & Theory. The first of two "Majors Rotation" Classes follow with Dance/Theatre/Percussion on Mondays and Wednesdays; and Visual Arts/Timbrels/Mime on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays is always a Fun Day, which is according to Teacher's Choice.
The second of two Majors Rotation Classes comes after lunch: Brass/Ukuleles/Recorders. Choir and a Culinary Arts Class is next, with an afternoon snack, cleanup, and a Fun-Theme Program to round out the afternoon before the parents arrive to take them home.
The two Robbins girls have extensive music and dramatic experience. Beccah Robbins attends the University of Central Arkansas and began her love for music at age seven. She plays alto and baritone brass instruments, as well as the bass guitar and ukulele. She is a gifted vocalist and also has a love for theater—a veteran performer of the AOK Gethsemane Company for four years. She performed the lead role of Eliza Shirley in the musical, The Christ Encounter.
Savannah Robbins graduated from UCA with a double major. She is a choreographer and dance instructor. Her training in dance includes ballet, contemporary, lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, tap, ballroom, and musical theater.
Major Michelle's love for music began as a child at The Salvation Army in Greenville, South Carolina. She has a degree in music from the North Greenville Baptist University, with a major in vocal performance. She plays piano and various brass instruments and brings more than 40 years of musical experience to these corps ministries.
With two summers of Project Create Music & Arts Camps completed, the concept lends itself to a similar school-year weekly activity, called "Kids Club," in two of the eight north Arkansas counties. Both programs are completely free to the families.
"Wherever we've been appointed, we've had a music school of some sort," explains Major John. "Our advisory board urged us to embrace the outlying counties in this corps command, and we've been recruiting board members from these counties—in fact, that's how we were able to start Kids Club in Mammoth Springs (Fulton County)."
With their daughters unavailable at college, Majors John & Michelle drive the hour-long trek to a Mammoth Springs elementary school every Tuesday of the school year, where they are given the cafeteria to conduct character-building corps activities, such as Sunday's Kool, Girl Guards, Sunbeams, and Adventure Corps.
"Mammoth Springs is small with a population of 997," explains Major John. "Most of the children there are either on free- or reduced-lunches; and parents cannot afford private music or arts lessons. So, the public school (system) asked us to come. On Wednesdays we conduct the very same program to students here in Mountain Home. In both places, the children can earn badges through the Guard/Sunbeam/Adventure Corps program as well as regular doses of the Gospel."
Major John further explains that many school systems have eliminated music and arts due to budgetary cuts—so this is a welcomed activity.
"At Mammoth Springs, we can average 50 students on Tuesdays, while back here in Mountain Home we usually have around 30," Major Michelle adds. Admittedly, with an hour commute each way from Mammoth Springs it is not expected that families from that area would make it to corps programs in Mountain View. But back in Mountain View, seven kids are now part of the regular corps program.
The aim of both programs is to provide kids that would never have the exposure to music and arts, says Savannah Robbins. But its more than just teaching music theory or their expression through dance and drama.
"It's proven that kids who are exposed to music and arts also do better in math and sciences," she explains.
On the final night of Project Create, parents, family members, and friends are welcomed to the corps fellowship hall, which is converted into a theater, complete with ticket booth and a stage. There, the students show off their newfound talents, performing music, dance, drama, and art skills—all rooted in the movie themes they enjoyed during the previous five weeks. Special lighting and sound effects complete the ambiance.
The community has embraced the annual effort, bringing extremely good exposure for The Salvation Army.
"The more important message is that God gave us these abilities to worship and serve Him. Everybody has a place in ministry, and I am honored to share with these kiddos–because that is the whole purpose of this!"