Kentucky Church Creates Performing Arts School for All Ages

More than 100+ kids and adults have trained at Ashland First United Methodist Church’s fine and performing arts school.

Patient people who can work with her son, Micah, aren’t easy to find, says Pam DeArmon, mom of a budding pianist with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s syndrome.

But DeNeil Hartley, administrative director of Aspire! Conservatory of Fine & Performing Arts, knew their instructors could help.

Hartley’s enthusiasm felt “like a balm,” according to DeArmon.

Micah, 10, is one of more than 100 students—young, old, special needs or not—learning music, art, theater or dance at Ashland First United Methodist Church, average attendance 165, in Ashland, Kentucky.

“Using the church building five evenings a week, our church comes more alive in the eyes of the community,” says Hartley, who taught music in schools for 23 years.

Aspire! teaches roughly 30 classes at the church, Monday through Friday until 9 p.m., sometimes starting as early as 1 p.m. Lessons cost $40 per month, or more for smaller classes and private lessons.

Financially, Aspire! is almost self-supporting, according to Hartley. The church couldn’t afford the program at first, but one day, Hartley received an “I hope you’re sitting down” text from the church about a just-arrived estate gift, which now bolsters the conservatory.

It opened in August 2015, offering piano classes and private lessons for band instruments, filling a big need in the Ashland community.

In addition, Aspire! offers recreational dance instruction as well as religious-themed beginning theatre.

The instructors, who are paid and degreed in their fields, are a big attraction for parents. “You’re taking classes and lessons with people who have gone the distance,” Hartley says.

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Scholarship donations and weekly feedback—and that unexpected estate gift—reassure Hartley of God’s backing.

“This has been on my heart for many years,” she says. “Sometimes you have to take that step of faith.”

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