Thursday, October 4, 2012
“God has given me so many talents… I want to give back to this community.”
TYLER Tyler native Debbie Kirkland-Waffer has a vision: to provide disadvantaged youth in her hometown and beyond with after-school and summer art programs that help them to realize their full potential. It is a vision that compelled her to found the nonprofit Arts & Humanities Council of East Texas in late 2009. While AHCET is still struggling to reach its vision, Kirkland-Waffer is working with others to apply for grants and hold fundraisers to help turn her dreams into reality.
“The idea is not to give the kids a fish, but to show them how to fish,” she said. “That would be the ultimate mission for these kids, to help them become self-sufficient.”
Kirkland-Waffer is a former radio broadcaster who worked a number of radio stations both in Tyler and in the Dallas area. She also worked in public relations. But three years ago she decided to change direction.
“I felt like I had run my course in terms of being a salaried employee,” she said. “God has given me so many talents… I want to give back to this community.”
Right now, AHCET is a one-person operation that she runs out of her home, though it does have a three-member board of directors. Getting a non-profit off the ground is slow going, but she is optimistic and determined.
“Just seeding a good, working board is a challenge in itself,” she said. “It is a little overwhelming. Nothing great is done overnight, and you can’t do a whole lot without money.”
This past summer, AHCET partnered with the Tyler YMCA to present a pair of Youth Creativity Workshops with local artist Ruth Drayer.
“It was very rewarding to see these kids open up and flourish,” Kirkland-Waffer said, mentioning one young man who attended the workshop. He wants to be a cartoonist. Waffer hopes that AHCET someday can provide programs that, for example, help train students like that in animation. The goal is to help kids realize they have something worthy within themselves that perhaps has been unrealized to this point.
“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” she said, referring to the youth she hopes the group will reach.
One of the group’s major events is just around the corner. The Multi-Cultural Arts Fest, set for Saturday, Oct. 6, will be held on the downtown square in Tyler. Many local performers and artists participate, including African drummers, Irish dancers, flamenco guitarists, other expressions of visual art and other activities geared toward people of all ages.
“It is a wonderful, neat experience to be outside on the downtown square by the fountain and have all these wonderful activities going on,” Kirkland-Waffer said.
This is the festival’s third year, and Cash Now and Auto Alliance East Texas are helping to financially underwrite the event. Activities begin at 11 a.m. Since October is Arts and Humanities Month, Kirkland-Waffer says the festival contributes by bringing different cultures together to engage and share their creative spirits.
AHCET’s other major event takes place in March, when it brings the Dallas Black Dance Theatre to the Cowan Center. Founded in 1976, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre is the oldest continuously operated dance company in Dallas, according to its website. Kirkland-Waffer hopes to bring the company back next March depending on AHCET’s success in raising money between now and then.
“Our finances are kind of depleted. So we really need and do welcome donations and people to support us,” she said. “Without the sponsorships and donations, it is difficult to put anything on.”
AHCET is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, according to its website, so donations are tax-deductible.
Contributions can be made to:
Arts & Humanties Council of East Texas
4838 S. Broadway, Ste 428, Tyler, Texas 75703
or visit its website.
A long-term goal of AHCET, what Kirkland-Waffer terms “kind of a sideline project that we’re hoping one day will be a reality” is to create an East Texas Hall of Fame Museum and Cultural Arts Complex. She points out the many East Texans who achieved fame in the arts, popular culture and sports — such as Tyler natives Earl Campbell, Carl Gardner, who founded the Coasters (the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), singer Miranda Lambert of nearby Lindale, and actor Matthew McConaughey who grew up in Longview — to name just a few.
The hope is that the Hall of Fame museum will inspire local youth, but Kirkland-Waffer acknowledges that project is well down the road.
“Right now, we’re hoping to build up resources to implement some after-school and out-of-school programs that will help these kids be the best they can be,” she said.