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Posted on Wed. Jul. 23, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

AWS Foundation awards $250,000 over five years to local Jesters theater program for children and adults with disabilities

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For more about the Jesters program at the University of Saint Francis, go to


The AWS Foundation of Fort Wayne will give $250,000 over five years for the operation and expansion of the Jesters program, which provides theater, art and music experiences to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.

The Jesters program, which is sponsored by and based at the University of Saint Francis, will receive $50,000 in annual program support, which is double the amount the AWS Foundation began contributing to the program in 2010, a university news release said.

With the increased funding, the Jesters program can provide performance opportunities for ages 6 through adults with disabilities, pay performance costs and salaries for teaching artists, and increase internship and volunteer opportunities for USF students, especially those studying to work with special-needs students, the news release said.

Expanded paid hours for the program's director and assistant director also will allow them to develop relationships with area organizations serving similar clients or providing similar services, the news release said. In addition, the AWS Foundation grant will allow the Jesters program to expand its marketing efforts to create more awareness about people with disabilities and the Jesters program.

The program, which was founded in 1978, currently offers 20 weeks of structured instruction in movement/dance, instrumental and vocal music, theater and art activities from September to March. Each spring, the Jesters stage an original theatrical production.

The number of Jesters participants has doubled in the five previous years AWS has provided funding, the news release said. Seventy people, including six children, took part in this spring's production, "Horse Tales."

“I never cease to be surprised at how important the work is — the participants have such pride in their accomplishments — I'm so happy to serve in this way,” Allison Ballard, the Jesters program director, said in the news release.

“The Jesters' progressive growth since our funding began has had impressive results, and we wanted to ensure the resources were there to support the expanded infrastructure and performance opportunities for children and adults with disabilities,” AWS Foundation Executive Director Lynne Gilmore said in the news release. “This grant represents not only an investment in this one-of-a-kind program, but in the quality of life individuals with disabilities enjoy as a result of being a Jester.”

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