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Chester County Press

Jennersville YMCA officially opens new performance space

02/24/2015 03:01PM ● By Richard Gaw

Before an overflow audience of more than 250 students, parents, performers and dignitaries, the Jennersville YMCA officially cut the ribbon last Friday afternoon on the opening of the new Smithson Center for the Arts and Recreation.

For more than an hour, guests were treated to musical selections from "Grease," "13 The Musical," and "Annie," performed by the Jennersville Youth Theater, as well as comments from YMCA executives.

Remarks were made by Joe Viscuso, chairman of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine; Dave Gorney, Jennersville YMCA board chairman; Denise L. Day, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine; and Tom Smithson, the capital campaign chairman of the center, who spoke about the selfless dedication of his parents Bob and Priscilla Smithson, for whom the center is named.

"Once a dream, now a reality, this theater is absolutely incredible, largely exceeding my expectations," he said. "Our parents always believed in giving back to the community and to help others in need."

Smithson said he and his siblings were inspired to continue the work of their parents, who began Camp Smithson, for the purpose of providing lower-income youth in the Oxford area with camping experiences.

"With schools cutting budgets for arts and recreation activities, it became evident that there was a need for this center," he said. "My bothers and sister saw the need and the passion, once introduced to the project, and it became our turn to continue the legacy of our parents."

The expansion also includes the new Carol E. Ware Family Wellness Center; an expanded child watch center, equipped with an indoor play structure and a separate room for special events; and a renovated enrichment center. The back of the stage at the center is equipped with two giant doors in its rear section, which can open and be converted into an amphitheater for warm weather events.

The opening of the new venue dovetails with the growth of the theater program at the Jennersville location. There are currently four separate groups that make up the Jennersville Youth Theater, which has seen its membership increase from 160 this past fall to more than 200 now. In addition, the Jennersville Theater Company is a group made up of both adults and children.

Hal Warner, executive director of the Jennersville YMCA, said that at least 16 theatrical productions are planned for the Smithson Center during its first year.

"Our theater programs were all over southern Chester County," Warner said. "We were in churches, in schools. We had groups rehearsing and performing everywhere except the place where they should be practicing – their own.

"This means that we're going to be be able to serve more families and more children than ever before," he added. "We'll be able to serve them in ways that we typically have not been able to serve them in the past. The arts and humanities are so important in enriching the lives not just of children, but of adults. Through this theater, we'll be able to do so much more of that."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].