Spend some time with Amanda Harris and she’ll keep you on your toes.
The Brookhaven resident, now a 20-year-old Washington University student, has been dancing since she was 3. She recently received a $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her efforts in sharing her love of dance with underprivileged children.
Harris has studied ballet, modern dance and jazz and danced in the Studio Atlanta company in middle and high school. She takes dance lessons in college and dances in the annual Washington University performance.
While being fitted for a new costume one day in middle school, Harris thought about the outgrown costumes piling up in her closet. “I thought it was wasteful,” she said.
She placed a collection basket at her studio and it immediately filled up with dance shoes, leotards and costumes. Heartened by the response, she reached out to other studios. “Most were extremely receptive,” Harris said.
But she didn’t stop there. Harris contacted dance clothing stores, like Shapes Dance and Aerobics Wear in Dunwoody, which donated new unsold dancewear.
Through the Wear then Share program she inaugurated in middle school, Harris has donated more than $80,000 worth of dance items to Moving in the Spirit, a youth development program that uses the art of dance to positively transform the lives of at-risk children and teens in Atlanta.
Harris also saw a bigger need. “[Some] kids can’t afford classes in the first place,” she said. She wanted to teach dance to children, and also teach life lessons, like persistence, patience and pride, through dance. Throughout middle and high school, she taught weekly dance classes at the Boys and Girls Club in Brookhaven and helped coordinate holiday dance programs with children at the Mary Hall Freedom House in Sandy Springs.
“It’s important that dance classes are weekly, to get to know the kids and learn about their life and family,” Harris said. And classes are about more than learning dance steps. “It helps in other ways,” added Harris. “Perseverance [leads to] mastering skills. Learning skills builds confidence. Performing in front of an audience builds confidence.”
Robin Reid, manager of volunteer services for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, said, “In addition to teaching kids about culture and self-expression, these classes show our members that getting active and staying fit can be fun.” She added, “As a nonprofit, we are always working to stretch limited resources. Volunteers like Amanda give us critical extra support.”
Harris enlisted friends to help her with classes and getting ready for performances. “The last couple years in high school I worked to make sure the program was sustainable,” she said. Margaret Wilson, a high school classmate from Brookhaven, continued the program when Harris graduated from Westminster and went to college.
Wear then Share’s reach has expanded beyond metro Atlanta. Harris said teens from other areas of the country have seen the website and contacted her for information about starting similar programs. “I’m excited about kids who are passionate about dance and are doing [Wear then Share] in their towns,” Harris said.
“When Amanda takes something on she gives it her whole heart,” said Jackie Goldstein of Sandy Springs, a creative director and Amanda’s mentor and advisor. “I’ve seen her tackle every project with a bounding creative drive, a mature sense for the practical and a sincere focus on helping improve the lives of others.”
Added Goldstein, “Wear then Share has changed the lives of the girls who participated, whether they’ve experienced the joy of dance, the self-esteem of putting on a show, the camaraderie of a troupe or the loving guidance of an instructor.”
When Harris was notified about her award, she was “shocked, humbled and grateful.” After reviewing the biographies of previous winners, she said, “It’s remarkable that I’m joining a community that I’m in awe of.”
Rachel Bloom, Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards program manager, said, “Amanda’s work through Wear then Share is so inspiring because she transformed a personal passion for dance into a meaningful project that makes a tangible impact in her community. It’s an honor to recognize Amanda and support her on her journey to make a difference.”
The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, given this year to 15 recipients, is a project of the San Francisco-based Helen Diller Family Foundation to develop leadership in teens and enhance Jewish education. Recipients are Jewish but their award-winning projects benefit the general population. Tikkun olam is a Jewish principle meaning “repair the world.” The monetary award may be used as the winners deem appropriate. Harris said she hopes to go to medical school and apply her award to tuition.