Spotlight on the kids

Although Spotlight Dance Studio teaches classes in jazz, ballet, tap, and hip-hop, it’s much more than a dance studio to the youths of Youngstown.

“I come here Friday and Saturday every weekend. It’s the place to be,” said Ty-isha Merchant, 12.

“About 20 of my friends come here,” said Eushera McKinney, 14. “Since there’s not a lot of places to come around in Youngstown and hang with your friends, you can come here and just hang out and have fun.”

On Monday and Tuesday, “it’s a dance and acting studio,” said founder and director Sha Rhonda Camille McQueen.

Although the dance classes are popular, Spotlight comes alive on the weekends.

“Every Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., children can come in … We do games, prizes, dance competitions, acting workshops and they eat for free,” said McQueen.

“Then on top of the weekend event, they can come in for an after school lounge, Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 6:30. They do homework and after that they can do games and activities,” said McQueen.

With a total of more than 300 children in attendance since Spotlight’s programs began in September, it’s making an enormous impact in the community.

“In this area where we are located, I saw a lot of children who seemed lost,” said McQueen. “They didn’t have a lot of places to be, places to go, but they were allowed to just leave the house for a period of hours. So I thought, in the pathway where I see kids walking, it would be great if there was a place they know is available to them, a place they know is for exactly them, and that’s what this is.”

“If you don’t give kids (something positive to do after school and in the evenings) the chances of them getting into trouble are great,” said McQueen.

Even though Spotlight has gotten support, it’s still running at a deficit.

“A lot of this comes from my own home budget,”?McQueen said. “I’ve spent over $7,000 of my own money putting this together. I’m hoping that the longer we’re around, the more we do, the more donations we’ll receive.”

“I started coming to Spotlight to keep me out of drama. There’s no drama here,” said Merchant.

“I think it’s going to keep a lot of kids out of trouble, because she’ll take the kids that aren’t the best at being well-behaved but she doesn’t mind, she lets them come in and it seems like they’re learning how to follow the rules,” said Nyamekye DuBose, 15.

“There’s such a need,” McQueen said. “Sometimes the kids who come around here are literally just hungry. I never want to see anyone walk away. It makes a world of difference to the kids.”

“The community has embraced Spotlight tremendously,” said McQueen.

The local block watch pays special attention after Spotlight events to make sure kids walk home safely, fathers volunteer security at weekend events and people sometimes donate food.

McQueen is working with the City of Youngstown to make Spotlight Dance Studio a presence on every side of town.

“I want Spotlight to be a steady landmark so that kids know there’s somebody out there rooting for them and fighting for them,” said McQueen.

“Come, just come. I want it to get big,” said DuBose. “I want to see it go mainstream, I want her to be able to keep it going. I think this is something good that she’s doing. It makes her happy to make other people happy.”