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Organizations Inspire Generations

February 23, 2012
By BETSY BETHEL - Life Associate Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Community organizations in the Ohio Valley serve to enrich the lives of residents throughout their life spans. Exploring educational and cultural pursuits not only helps people learn, grow and feel better about themselves, it gives them a positive feeling about their communities.

Oglebay Institute is one such organization. It has served Ohio Valley residents since 1930.

"The objective of Oglebay Institute is to be a leader in its disciplines by improving quality of life through education, recreation, culture and creative outlets for personal and professional growth and enrichment," according to the institute's website, www.oionline. com. It carries out its mission with patrons of every age and background at six facilities in the Wheeling area: the Schrader Environmental Education Center, the Mansion Museum and the Glass Museum, all located in Oglebay Resort; the Stifel Fine Arts Center and School of Dance at 1330 National Road; and Towngate Theatre and Cinema at 2118 Market St..

The organization offers classes in everything from glassblowing and folk dance to oil painting and piano. It offers regular cultural programming, including theater productions, a jazz series, an environmental lecture series, bluegrass concerts, an annual antiques show and sale and much more.

In addition, Oglebay Institute partners with local schools to bring programming to them in the form of music, dance or theater classes and workshops. Annual memberships provide class discounts, free admissions and other benefits.

The intergenerational aspect of Oglebay Institute's programming is apparent in its theater department.

Fact Box

Q: How do community organizations such as Oglebay Institute enrich the lives of area residents, from birth on?

A: Exploring educational and cultural pursuits not only helps people learn, grow and feel better about themselves, it gives them a positive feeling about their communities.

"There is nothing more rewarding and exciting than to do a play with actors that vary in age from 10 to 60," said Tim Thompson, Towngate Theatre director. "The very young children are inspired by the older children who in turn get to become their mentors. The older children get the thrill of working with adults who most likely have a great deal of experience and they can witness first hand how the adults work on a role. It is like a family getting together to share their talents. The result is Children's Theatre at its best."

Public libraries offer another avenue for residents of all ages to learn - not only from the books that line the stacks but also from free cultural and historical programming.

Library programs span the generations by offering story times for the youngest of babies to computer classes, tax assistance and special presentations for all ages. At the Ohio County Public Library, Lunch With Books takes place every Tuesday during the noon hour and features a guest author or speaker on topics as diverse as quilting, the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty, historical figures in West Virginia and American history, Irish music, Holocaust survivors and Civil War fashion.

In addition to book clubs for teens and adults, as well as informative sessions on topics such as fracking, the library also offers the People's University - a series of classes mostly dealing with the history of Wheeling, taught by local professionals and educators.

"We believe that the library's programming is an essential part of what we do, and with the growing popularity of e-books, quality live programming that offers our patrons an opportunity to learn and grow throughout their lives for free will become even more important," said Sean Duffy, adult programming director. "This is a community service the public library is in a unique position to provide for all stages of a person's life."

The Wheeling Symphony Society is another community organization that enriches the lives of patrons of all ages. Through its classical music concerts featuring a variety of instrumentalists and vocalists, to its pop series that has spotlighted music from every generation, to its soldout show starring the performers of Cirque de la Symphonie, the symphony is a multi-faceted, multi-generational crowd pleaser.

In addition to its concerts at Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, the symphony takes its show on the road each year to perform Young People's Concerts throughout the state of West Virginia. It also provides several free concerts a year, including the Fourth of July celebration at Wheeling Heritage Port and Music Under the Stars on Labor Day weekend at Oglebay Resort's Anne Kuchinka Amphitheatre. The symphony also is a partner in education with several local schools.

The symphony offers student tickets at a greatly discounted rate to encourage youngsters to experience its diverse programs. The accessibility of such cultural pursuits as the symphony to children is key to the success of the institution, the child and the ultimately the community.

"The arts foster critical thinking, imagination and creativity; exposure to and participation in the arts prepares our children with the skills needed to meet the work force demands of the 21st century," said Bruce Wheeler, WSO executive director.

He added: "A growing body of research shows that thriving arts communities are crucial for the financial health and vitality of their regions. The arts provide jobs, attract investments and stimulate local economies through tourism, consumer purchases and tax revenue. Communities that offer robust arts and cultural sectors are viewed as more desirable places to live, work and visit."

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