PATERSON, NJ- When seven-year old Tatiana joined several of her friends in a ballet performance at Saturday’s InnerFaith Honors Awards breakfast she had a look of confidence that only comes from hours of dedicated practice and training. Following her performance, when asked what it was she liked best about the classes she takes at Paterson’s InnerFaith Performing Arts Center (IPAC), she’d say simply that she “learns to do things she couldn’t.”

With those words it became clear that Founder Rahsona Elder, and her dedicated team that have been building IPAC for nearly twenty years, are succeeding in their noble mission to “empower children through creative and performing arts.”

Elder, born and raised in Paterson, founded the organization in 1998 on the belief that “all God’s children are stars,” and that by offering the city’s youngest residents  the same opportunities that existed in more suburban areas they could “empower their inner spirits,” and make sure that “no young person in Paterson becomes hopeless.”

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One by one the awardees recognized at the Saturday awards breakfast would take the microphone and one by one the accolades they were meant to receive were turned right back towards Elder and her team at IPAC for their commitment to the children they serve every day. Guinera Curry, Sergio Abrams, Michelle Vargas, Matthew McKoy, and members of the Paterson Fire Department’s chapter of Bronze Heat, all deserving of the recognition, used their time not to bask in the glory of being recognized, but to offer words of wisdom to the young performers of the Tiny Ballerina Ensemble Program who kicked off the program with the grace and poise of seasoned professionals.

There was no shortage of community leaders on hand to celebrate IPAC with Council President Ruby Cotton, Councilman Andre Sayegh and Board of Education Commissioner Lilissa Mimms all in attendance to lend their support. It was, however, perhaps the comments of Acting Superintendent Eileen Shafer who praised the dancers for their “discipline and practice,” as well their decision, along with their parents, to “make sacrifices” that allowed them to develop the ballet skills they had earlier exhibited.

Through the arts, Shafer would say, children “learn to become independent thinkers,” that will grow into “independent residents,” and “run the city someday.”

It was the final award of the day, to Jorrdin Miller, an alumnus of IPAC, that brought tears of pride to Elder’s eyes, and gave those assembled a subtle reminder that the dance, song, yoga, voice, theater and other outlets that are being provided to children throughout Paterson truly are making an impact.  

Along with Miller’s praise for the opportunities she enjoyed by being a part of IPAC came another reminder that the lessons being taught at are getting through to the students who, according to Tatiana, are learning to “be the best (they) can.”