Friday, August 11, 2000

Star power makes kids shine

Nonprofit Happen Inc. teaches parents, children art of quality time

By Christine Oliva
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Screaming fans swarm the car, fighting for a glimpse of the elusive figure behind the tinted windows. A door opens and she steps out, a bit disoriented by the flashbulbs going off in her face.

        “Oh my gosh, it's Aterria,” squeals a poster-wielding fan.

        “I got her autograph,” wails another. “That's going to be worth a million dollars someday.”

        Aterria, 8, is ushered to her “dressing room” where she has a few minutes to look over her script. Her “agent” has sent her a dozen roses to wish her luck in her first starring role.

        But you won't be able to find it on the big screen, nor on cable television. Aterria and four other children — this week ages 8 to 10 — are “stars for the day” at Happen Inc., and all the commotion was just leading up to the nonprofit organization's first activity of the evening.

        Happen teaches art to parents and children through interactive classes over a five-week period. The July 20 class reinforced the idea that children are stars.

        With a director “straight from the '30s,” the children and adults learned about motion pictures and animation, in addition to starring in a short movie. (The grown-ups played the props — trees, engines, bugs, cows.) They even made their own flip books, which will be transferred onto film next week and made into a silent movie.

        “Our whole goal here is to bring parents and children together for quality time,” said executive director Tommy Rueff. “We're not trying to make a fine artist out of anybody.”

        Although only four children attended the July 20 class, there are six enrolled in the session. Three come with their parents and three come with a mentor.

        Happen partnered with Project Connect, an advocacy group for homeless children, about a month ago to form L'CETA (Life Changing Experiences Through Art). Happen activity gifts make it possible for homeless children to participate in the classes for free, accompanied by a mentor volunteer. After the classes, they eat dinner and work on their take-home assignments.

        “This is a great vehicle for our kids to connect with a mentor,” said Project Connect coordinator Debbie Reinhart. “They walk away feeling better about themselves. It lets them know that they can be creative, that they can do something positive, that they can be an active member of a group. I think Tommy Rueff is one of a kind.”

        Mr. Rueff, who holds a master's degree in painting, but has done extensive work in sculpting and large-scale mixed media, left the advertising business in 1998 to start Happen.

        “I was at a point in my life where I saw that I could make a difference,” he said. “And I thought, I may never be able to do this again.”

        The Happen facility — originally in Corryville — opened for its first session in 1999 and has been growing ever since with the help of private donations. Happen moved to its current home, 5210 Beechmont Ave., about four months ago.

        Mr. Rueff said he was inspired by a childhood swim coach who offered free swimming lessons for parents and children. He remembered the time he and his father spent together learning how to swim, and it made him think about his own artwork. “I thought, I can do this — I can bring families together.”

        Mary Ann Lohmueller of Blue Ash had been looking for an art class for her daughter Lauren when she stumbled upon Happen. She wanted something that the two of them could do together, but was having trouble finding anything suitable for both an 8-year-old and a 43-year-old.

        “This was exactly what I had been looking for,” Ms. Lohmueller said. “I've never seen anything like it — and I did search. It's very out of the box. Some people teach techniques. Tommy helps us experience the art.”

        For more information about Happen Inc. call (513) 751-2345. Volunteers are needed for the next five-week sessions, beginning Sept. 7 and 9.


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