HEARTs Full Of Love For Port

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Judith Heller, Erin Storch, and Hearts founder Damon Gersh

HEARTs, the Port Washington organization cofounded by Port Washington residents Damon Gersh and Sheri Suzzan in 2011, and whose mission is to support, nurture, and enrich the arts in the Port Washington public schools and the greater community, held its 2018 Red Party! on Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Port Washington Yacht Club. Honorees were Allison Friedman and Stacey Medford, founders of Curtains Up, an afterschool musical theater program for fourth- and fifth-graders and HEARTs-funded grant recipients since 2014.

Friedman and Medford, teachers in the Port Washington school district, were motivated to start Curtains Up after working together on school theater productions and talking about giving elementary students a musical theater experience. When they heard about the newly available HEARTs grants at a faculty meeting, they realized they had found a way to fund their vision. Friedman said, “We instantly looked at each other and knew we just had to apply…and the rest is history.” With more than 15 years of combined music, dance, and theater experience, the time and talents of Friedman and Medford have benefited more than 100 students who have participated in the theater program, many of whom have returned—after aging out—in support roles as production stage managers assisting with costume, lighting and set design.

Friedman and Medford agree that the best part of their work is giving fourth- and fifth-graders new experiences.

“Being part of a theatrical production is a magical experience where children can find themselves, make new friends, and discover their own abilities…everyone can shine,” said Friedman. As for their former students—including this year’s high school volunteers and graduating seniors Emma Goldman and Valentina Scotto, who return to assist with productions, “it is great to see them take on leadership roles and inspire the younger students,” Friedman added.

Also presented Thursday evening was the 2018 Founders Award, which is bestowed on HEARTs volunteers who have made an outstanding impact in making HEARTs the vibrant and exciting group it is today. Erika Cooper and Elyse Lurray, recipients of this year’s award, have been co-chairs since 2011 of the large and highly successful auction run at PortFest, a family-themed music and arts festival held each spring in Port Washington. Cooper and Lurray were honored for their many hours of service and steadfast commitment to the auction and PortFest, which raises the bulk of funding for the grants program administered by HEARTs.

The Red Party!, named for its proximity to Valentine’s Day, was a well-attended event with more than 200 guests who enjoyed a buffet dinner while listening to performers from Bach to Rock. A special appearance was made by nine of Friedman’s and Medford’s former Curtains Up students who are now at Weber Middle School.

Jonathan Goldstein with Damon Gersh, Founder of HEARTS

HEARTs chairman and founder Gersh was inspired to form HEARTs to give people—children and adults—a platform to celebrate their artistic talents. The extraordinary success of HEARTs has been made possible by Gersh’s business expertise, perfected through 30 years of running his own company, Maxons Restorations, and fueled by his passion for music as a performer as the lead vocalist and guitarist for his band, Rock Steady. Suzzan, his cofounder and principal at Daly Elementary School, said that they are both thrilled to be “developing the next generation of performing students.” Matthew Ackert, guest and an anesthesiologist with Northwell Health, was impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the Port Washington community in its support of HEARTs. “Other communities looking for ways to support the arts in their schools should look to HEARTs as a feasible and sustainable model,” he said.

In addition to Curtains Up, the 2018 spring grant recipients include Afternoon Artists (a media arts program), Dancing Classrooms, the Schreiber Theater Company (to offset costs of the high school’s annual musical production), the Memory Project (a portrait program in conjunction with the Art Honor Society), Pop Choir, Night of 1000 Strings (for orchestra students in grades 5-12), AileyDance Kids, and the Weber Woodwind & Brass Ensemble.

For further information about the mission and programs of HEARTs, as well as instructions for those arts groups interested in applying for a HEARTs grant, the HEARTs website is www.HEARTsPW.org.

PortFest will be held this year on Saturday, May 19. More information can be found on its web-site at www.PWPortFest.org.

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Lorraine Mesagna has a Masters degree from Hofstra University and is a freelance writer for Port Washington News.

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