JGN Partnership With TRUST Taps First Hand Teen Experiences

By Crystal Proxmire

Editor's Note: This performance has been postponed until March 11, 2013 due to weather.

Trust is the core value of a play being performed on Monday, Jan. 28 at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Township. Illuminarts, in partnership with the Jewish Gay Network, will be presenting Project Teach Reach Using Students in Theatre (TRUST) as part of their regular Monday night youth program, although the program is open to the public.
The play shows a variety of situations that young people are likely to encounter, including bullying and substance abuse. It also shares tools for conflict resolution and compassion. But what's really special is that the play is put on by local teenagers who have experienced these situations first hand.
Patty Ceresnie of Illuminart has been mentoring young actors and actresses for over ten years, guiding them through the process of producing skits and taking them to various schools to perform for others. She has partnered with local schools, including W. Bloomfield, N. Farmington and Bloomfield Lasher, and worked with students from many different backgrounds.
"I try to make a really diverse class," Ceresnie said. "There are different ethnicities, different religious backgrounds, and even LGBT youth.
"They come forward at their schools to volunteer. What I have found for me is the lasting effects are priceless. We take a kid who is failing at school or having attendance problems and give them a safe place within the school to divulge their problems – and their happiness, so they can develop trust and end up being good friends. Sometimes they end up being advocates at school, helping others and stopping fights."
The performance is a mix of short scenes, many written by the students themselves. One student, Andrew Mason, wrote a scene based on an experience he had with a young lady friend who came out to him as bisexual. "The scene teaches other students how to be a good listener and how to be supportive," Ceresnie said. "Our goal is if we can get one or two kids out of the crowd to change their behavior, we're happy with that. We have the kids in the audience fill out a survey at the end and we get about 85% positive results. They realize it's okay to speak up, or they recognize a behavior they are doing or their friends are doing that may be hurting others. Kids will come up to our students at the end and share their own experiences or have questions."
JGN has embraced this concept, this year bringing the performance first to Congregation Shir Tikvah back in November, and now for Jan. 28th presentation. "This type of programing is very important because of current demographics. The two areas of most need for services, especially in the LGBT community, are aging LGBT citizens and youth. JGN needs to be there for emerging LGBT youth so that they will know that it is ok to be Gay in the Jewish community and the greater community. We also need to provide programs so that teens know best how to support friends and family members who maybe LGBT or questioning," said JGN President Michael Phillips. "As an "old person" and seasoned educator myself, I know that teens hear messages and ideas better if they come from people their own age."
The performance is on Monday, Jan. 28 at 6pm at Temple Shir Shalom, 3999 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield Township.