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Youth arts program in Paso Robles plans to expand, honoring life of teacher who died

Posted at 6:19 AM, Mar 04, 2020

Hundreds of children from across the Central Coast take free art classes at the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation and plans for an expansion will not only help serve more kids, but honor the life of a late art teacher.

On the city's north end, PRYAF is a mecca for young creatives. The center offers about 50 classes per week for children ages 5 to 18.

Around 400 kids are taught free lessons in dance, music, art, acting, and cooking each week.

Because there's no financial requirement to attend, the waiting list is long and some students never make it into a class.

PRYAF leadership announced last week their plans to go forward with a $3.6 million expansion.

"We have about 100 students a day here learning the arts after school, staying off the street, staying out of trouble," PRYAF Development Dir. Emily Jagger said. "Even if they have no experience in guitar or ballet or culinary arts, they can always start and try something new."

Students from as far as Lompoc travel to PRYAF after school to take free classes.

"As soon as they walk through these walls, they are family, they get together, they play music together," PRYAF Exec. Dir. Mindy Dierks said.

Whether they're strumming chords, painting canvas, dancing, or cooking a meal, this space offers kids a sense of belonging.

Through the hard times, this creative community comes together, as they did when art teacher Danielle Valenzuela passed away.

"She was a visionary and she had many ideas on how to keep us going, because how do you keep a school like this going?" Dierks said.

Valenzuela died from cancer in October 2018 just as the property next door went up for sale, making the dream of expanding a reality.

"When we expand, we will be naming our art room after Danielle," Dierks said.

The project will expand classes to twice as many students and slim down the lengthy wait list, something one of the architects on the project knows about first hand.

At the public unveiling, the architect told the audience he'd been interested as a child in enrolling in art classes at PRYAF. Though he signed up, the man never made it off the wait list.

The proposed expansion would make PRYAF one of the largest youth arts centers in California, according to Jagger.

"We're planning to put in a cutting edge kitchen and art room and gallery that the students can learn to manage," Jagger said.

Though Valenzuela won't get to see this dream come true, her own children, who attend class at PRYAF, will be among the first to take art in their mother's namesake room.

"This beautiful classroom will fill so many minds with creativity and love for color and expression just like Danielle always did," Dierks told the audience.

Already, PRYAF has raised a little less than half its goal. Anyone who would like to contribute to the project, either financially or with time, can contact the organization directly or click here.