Special Hearts in the Arts
By Jordan Regas
By: Jessie Monsivais Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Special Hearts in the Arts is a nonprofit organization that promotes art, music, dance, and theater for people with special needs. Sherri Davis, the woman behind the program, shares how the idea came to her.
“It was a dream of a butterfly princess and a frog on stage. The frog, who was chasing the princess, was a young boy in a wheelchair with frog legs on the wheels that made it look as if he were hopping on stage.”
Sherri says she woke up with a newfound sense of purpose. After sharing her idea with everyone she knows, Special Hearts in the Arts has grown with support from the community, family, friends, and students. “It’s a need in the community. We didn’t realize how much a need it was. I’ve just always wanted to do it because I have a 42-year-old nephew that has Down syndrome. When he was born, I fell in love, and it just continued from my love from that.”
In December 2016, Special Hearts in the Arts came to be a place where individuals with special needs explore the fine arts through classes led by trained professionals, culminating in live performances for the community.
Malai Riley, a 20-year-old woman who participates in the program, loves Special Hearts in the Arts. “I think it’s pretty cool! I love art, and I love to draw horses,” says Malai. Her mother tells of the day she brought Malai to Special Hearts in the Art’s second class and found everything to be so perfect that she thought the organization had been running for years.
“This is not ‘me run;’ it’s my volunteers. The volunteers that have walked through the door are tremendous people. People that walk in and stay are family,” says Sherri. The support from other organizations in the community, including Harbor Playhouse, Del Mar College, John Paul II High School, and many more, have played an integral role in the organization’s success.
Six months ago, the organization acquired their building. The Special Hearts community came together to clean, paint, and plant, making their new space warm and inviting. Today, more than 25 students enroll in every class. Special Hearts in the Arts plans to expand by offering afternoon classes and using the areas upstairs.As an educator for over 40 years, Sherri says she hopes the program grows to be more than just classes for special hearts. “My goal is that these kids run this place. I’ll open the door, and they’re in charge. I want them to be directors, the performers, everything.”