Children in Clark County have an incredible opportunity to experience theater in a tremendous way. Journey Theater Arts Group (formerly known as Christian Youth Theater) was founded by Bethany Larson in Vancouver 15 years ago. She had been involved with this program in Spokane and wanted to bring it to Vancouver. In 2001 she started laying the groundwork, and in 2002 it became a non-profit organization.
Larson’s vision has impacted many children’s lives. “The impact of Journey Theater Arts Group is helping good kids stay good, allowing those who want to perform to do so. It helps the non-athletes have a place and it is also something the whole family can do together,” she states. This unique program offers students ages 6-18 an opportunity to learn to dance, sing and perform.
Jami Ecoff has been the Class Coordinator for over a year, but involved with Journey for the past nine years as a parent. She leads the Monday night classes held at Cascade Park Baptist Church. All three of her children have been a part of Journey.
“Journey has drastically impacted my kids in different ways,” she says. “I have a daughter who was born to be on stage. When she found Journey, it was like she was home. She has flourished in who she is. Now she is a leader who has learned to walk through many emotions, including the disappointment that can come when you don’t get the role you want.”
“My son says he didn’t know who he was before Journey,” continues Ecoff. “Out of nowhere, he decided to audition. He was a sports kid and liked the new environment. My youngest child was quiet and shy. She wouldn’t talk to people one-on-one, but now when we go to the opening night parties, I don’t see her even though she was the one who was always right next to me. I’ve watched her be able to talk to people. She can carry on a conversation and get up onstage and sing or talk. It’s amazing to see the way she has learned to develop relationships. I see it impact kids in so many different ways. Growing in confidence is the biggest impact I see for the students.”
As a parent of a Journey student myself, I know firsthand how Journey has impacted my 11-year-old daughter. Her confidence in her singing talent has grown immensely, which has impacted her belief in herself. She started at age eight when my husband was in the hospital, going through medical obstacles. For her, theater became her passion and stability in the chaotic world happening around her. The older kids took her in and mentored and loved her, as they continue to do through every session and show.
The teachers are passionate about teaching the elements of theater. Many of the teachers are alumni who grew up going through the Journey program, and their passion and love for Journey continues as they impart their knowledge to the next generation.
Sitting in the huge Journey warehouse talking to Ecoff, I was impressed by the sheer size and the seemingly endless amounts of costumes, props and sets. Many volunteers are involved in helping this program to succeed. During shows parents help to create sets, props, design and make costumes. Tuition and show costs cover only 46% of the money needed for the program to run. Donations from generous individuals and businesses help cover some of the costs. Watch for the Give More 24 Foundation annual drive. During other times you can donate via the Journey Theater Arts Group website. If you have goods or services you would like to donate to the auction, please call the Journey office at 360-750-8550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn about how your child can be a part of Journey, visit the Journey Theater Arts Group website. There are classes offered throughout the week in various locations in Vancouver. There are also classes in Beaverton, Tualatin Valley and Portland. In addition to classes, students ages 8-18 are able to audition to be in various shows that are performed throughout the year. To see a complete list of shows for this season, visit Journey Theater Arts Group website.
This impactful, non-profit organization has brought positive experiences and life lessons to many children in Clark County and the surrounding areas. It truly is a life changer. As Journey’s tagline says, “Not just live theater – theater that changes lives.”