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NYer Of The Week: Helen White's Theater Program Allows Youths To Explore Their Issues

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Using the stage to share their stories and struggles, this week's New Yorker is helping young people develop confidence and skills through theater. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.

Helen White believes in young people.

"Because young people, and what they have to say, needs to be taken seriously," she says.

For the last 18 years, White has dedicated herself to helping them do just that by giving them a voice through theater.

"They have to look at their lives, look at the world around them and decide what do they think is important, what do they want to do theater about," she says.

Helen founded the Creative Arts Team Youth Theatre Program, a nonprofit group at the City University of New York.

The group provides middle and high-school students in the city with a free after-school program where they can explore issues that affect them.

"Often, they are in a situation where they feel they are being judged at school, they're being graded at school, there's a lot of pressure at home," she says. "Theater enables you to try on many different roles, so you really can gain an understanding of others while, at the same time, imagining different alternatives for where your own life might go or the different possibilities and pathways out of struggles that you're having."

"Personally, family-wise, I've dealt with people with mental health problems," says Anthony Castro, a Youth Theatre member. "I just thought that it would be a really, really good topic to choose."

Inside/Out, the group's current production, gives the students an opportunity to share their experiences with poverty, relationships, Hurricane Sandy and more, all things that have turned their lives inside out.

"At its core, theater isn't Broadway. It's actually much more base than that," says Michael Gargan Curtin, assistant director for the Youth Theatre program. "It's people expressing themselves."

"I'm no longer shy," Castro says. "I'm not afraid to express my thoughts. This place has really allowed me to speak my mind, and I've taken that into the real world.

So, for giving young New Yorkers a stage on which to share their struggles and creativity, Helen White is our New Yorker of the Week.

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