PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The stories 10 On Your Side covers nearly every day — involving crime, drugs, and illegal weapons — often represent the final and often tragic by-products of so many systems that have failed.

But there is new hope for the next generation and it starts at the new Urban Renewal Center, located inside First Presbyterian Church at 820 Colonial Avenue in Norfolk.

“My heart goes out to so many children who are suffering,” said URC founder Dr. Antipas Harris.

The theologian, who was a music major, created a program, Impact ARTS, as a safety net for children who otherwise would not have access to performing arts training.

(Photo courtesy: Dr. Antipas Harris)

“So what I like to do is focus on early development. So one of the things at the Urban Renewal Center that we are doing is focusing on the fourth to seventh grade to focus on getting them in the arts we have. I am a proponent, of course, of early education but as far as the arts are concerned, I want to get them in fourth through seventh grade and see what difference we can make in their development,” he said.

(Photo courtesy: Dr. Antipas Harris)

The timing is critical. As the pandemic approaches endemic status, Harris is casting a safety net for children who are suffering from depression and youngsters who are at risk of academic failure.

“It breaks my heart because when you think about the pipeline to prison, as it pertains to teenagers who have deviant behavior, the pipeline to prison shows that third grade reading literacy rates have already set the course for who will be going to prison in the next 30 years. Research shows that the arts will really help children with their social and emotional development, their behavior, and overall performance in school,” said Harris.

Parents and children can join Harris for an open house on March 8 and 15 to check out the free program.

“We have Tiffany Williams who will be teaching acting and theater. So theater, acting jazz, and boat-building [will be offered] please come I think the children will have a great time,” said Harris who hopes to expand the program to other local cities in the future.