DJOLE African Dance and Drum Company
Djole (jo-lay)
adj. or n.
    1. Much dance
    2. Spirit dance
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DJole Dance CompanyDjole was formed in 1999 through a project conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, The City of North Charleston, and the Union Heights neighborhood. Djole is currently funded through Gethsemani Circle of Friends, which was developed out of a need to provide educational, recreational, cultural, health, and family cohesion activities and social services in a high crime, inner city neighborhood. The programs developed and implemented by our organization are geared toward youth and senior citizens. Development of the organization has been in process since March 2004 and nonprofit status was attained April 2, 2004. The City of North Charleston Recreation Department continues to be our active partner.

Key Achievements
Prior to attaining nonprofit status, we secured a small community grant that allowed us to maintain West African dance and drumming lessons, supplement after school and educational programming in reading and math and a homework help center, and run crafts and exercise programs for senior citizens.

We have developed partnerships with College of Charleston, Lowcountry AIDS Services and maintained existing relations with the City of North Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina. We have worked with two youth to get them enrolled in college. They are in the process of completing their first semester. We were able to get computers donated that we gave to these youth and two other youths to help them in college. We also gave a computer to a local church for use with their youth. Two Djole Dance Company youth perform with an adult dance company through the mentorship process. They are paid for performances with the adult company.

Current Goals and Objectives
Goal #1: Provide job training to youth and young adults

  1. Provide an ongoing course at the Community Center at teaches completion of a job application, interviewing, how to find a job, and how to retain a job.
  2. Provide a course that teaches basic computer skills.
  3. Mentor Djole Dance Company youth to move into performing with a local adult dance company.
  4. Mentor youth through the process of applying for programs such as Youthbuild and Job Corps.
Goal #2: Provide academic enrichment

  1. Conduct an after-school homework and tutoring program at the Center
  2. Conduct "The Great Math Challenge", an ongoing program that provides a small teacher-student ratio program with incentives
  3. Conduct reading incentive programs using Accelerated Reader
  4. Conduct spelling bees periodically
  5. Conduct writing (short-story and poetry) contests across different age and grade levels
  6. Conduct an annual "Soul Bowl"-a game show with general academic questions across various categories that the children answer in teams.
  7. Conduct events that foster an increased knowledge of health information on diseases of which our youth are high risk - diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS.
  8. Conduct field trips that leave the neighborhood to give the children the opportunity to learn about other places, other cultures, and issues children and their families face.
  9. Provide scholarship funds for youth who attend college or technical school.
  10. Support youth in annual attendance of the Cannon Street YMCA Black College Tour.
Goal #3: Improve neighborhood and family cohesion

  1. Conduct special activities geared toward family and community cohesion such as the father-daughter dinner, the mother-son banquet, the sons of Union Heights breakfast, the police versus youth "Beatdown in H-Town" basketball game.
  2. Recruit parents to participate in all Center activities.
Goal #4: Improve quality of life for senior citizens

  1. Provide a weekly crafts meeting in which seniors can gather, socialize, and do hand work.
  2. Provide regular exercise programs that seniors can comfortably participate in.
  3. Conduct field trips that get seniors out of their home and give them an opportunity to interact with each other and people outside their neighborhood.
  4. Provide information to seniors regarding health care and financial management.

Organizational Structure
Gethsemani Circle of Friends is comprised entirely of volunteers in the role of board of directors. The program helps bring volunteer efforts and funding that interacts with the services offered by the North Charleston Recreation Department. The Recreation Department provides a full time director and two part-time assistants who help with after school and senior programming.

In addition to providing supplemental funding and implementing services for youth and seniors, on an informal basis we are a resource for youth who might be interested in college or who are looking for jobs. In addition, we work with the Recreation Department to pass out food at times that such donations are made, to assure that seniors have heat and cooling at appropriate times of the year, and pass out clothing that is donated to the Center. We also serve as a point of contact for the schools that our children attend and work with them to assure that the children in our neighborhood attend and that we reinforce achievement.

Community Demographics and Other Organizations Involved
Gethsemani Circle of Friends focuses on youth and families in the Union Heights neighborhood in North Charleston, South Carolina. The Union Heights neighborhood is comprised of roughly 2500 individuals and roughly 99% of residents are African American. People in the neighborhood experience economic disadvantage (mean household income = $13,583) and low educational opportunities/background (75% of residents did not complete high school). In addition, the community has struggled with the problems of crime and drugs.

Children in the neighborhood are at high risk of involvement with drugs and crime because parents are working multiple jobs to put food on the table and the children do not have enough to do and are often unsupervised during after school and weekend times. Also, the children have limited experiences with the outside world (example: when we started Djole Dance Company some of our children had never been to historic downtown Charleston and it is only 5.5 miles away) and little faith in their ability to learn new things and pursue opportunities. Finally, the children face a future of health concerns because the families in our community have high rates of diabetes and hypertension and the risk of HIV/AIDS is high.

Djole Dance Company was formed five years ago to get children off the street, encourage them toward a more positive path in life, and improve their health status. Youth rehearse on a weekly basis at the Gethsemani Community Center in the neighborhood and have performed for local, national, and international arts festivals.

The Gethsemani Community Center is owned and operated by the City of North Charleston Parks and Recreation Department. We have partnered with the Recreation Department and run our programs in conjunction with them out of the community center. The Medical University of South Carolina operates a health center in the neighborhood. Our youth and their families can see a physician or nurse practitioner when they have medical needs. The nurses at the health center have provided medical examinations for youth who are starting up strenuous exercise programs. Lowcountry AIDS Services is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for persons living with HIV Disease, and providing HIV prevention resources and programs for schools, churches, community organizations, and the workplace in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties. They have joined with us to train leaders and youth in facts about AIDS as part of this project. Finally, the Family Services Research Center (FSRC) at the Medical University of South Carolina has been involved with us to set up recreational and educational programs. Dr. Cynthia Cupit Swenson, a psychologist at the FSRC volunteers at the Center on a regular basis and is co-director of Djole Dance Company.