Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Alfie's Teaches Troubled Kids the Art of Performance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Alfie's Teaches Troubled Kids the Art of Performance

Article excerpt

The performing arts are not only beautiful forms of expression, they can also help young people come out of their shells, said a Northside woman who should know.

She's Alice Walton, and along with sister Felicia Walton, she runs Alfie's Center for the Performing Arts at 9497 Lem Turner Road (the name of the center is a blend of "Alice" and "Felicia").

For five years, the sisters ran an after-school performing arts program through the Duval County School Board at Landon Middle School. But two months ago, the sisters' non-profit group moved into an abandoned twin-movie theater on Lem Turner. The seats have been removed from one theater, but the other is a 400-seat facility the center will use to stage productions.

"Frankly, we could have opened a center for profit in other areas of town," Alice Walton said. "But this is where we need to be. The Northside is where the need is. For one thing, there's almost nothing to do in many of the neighborhoods."

The Alfie's center charges a fee. But if the children's parents can't afford to pay -- and many can't -- "We make other arrangements to cover the cost because we aren't interested in turning anyone away," Walton said.

The center takes youngsters 3 to 18. It features instruction in voice, choreography, ballet, jazz and tap dance. It also offers classes in technical skills such as operating sound and lighting equipment.

Alice Walton has a doctorate in counseling from the University of Florida, but has participated in theater for many years. She grew up in Gainesville and moved to Jacksonville 10 years ago.

A few years after moving to Jacksonville, she said, she had an unforgettable experience that led her toward helping kids learn the performing arts.

"Some time ago I went to my niece's kindergarten graduation," she said. "I remember distinctly watching this adorable girl doing a little dance -- and something about it really moved me. I not only saw how happy it made my little niece, but I saw the heart of God and how happy it made him.

"For days afterward, I kept thinking that if I could get a safe place to teach children how to develop and express their creativity, I could do something very worthwhile. …

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