NEW BERLIN — The New Berlin Cultural Center celebrated their first year anniversary on September 18, 2023 at the parish hall of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Main Street.
Over the past year, the space hosted several yoga classes, cooking classes, sewing classes, art classes, dance classes, and musical theater.
Center Director Andreia Keller said it has been an effort by everyone that participated in the events. She said she may be the creative hook but New Berlin Mayor Peter Lennon is like the flame that says “we’re going to get this,” and “we’re going to accomplish that.”
She said “It’s all about the support of the entire village, it’s the eight village singers, it’s Mayor Lennon, who believes and works to do right and constantly gives of himself. The mayor’s wife, every basketball player, every senior citizen, everyone; the entire village comes together to make something valuable.”
Keller said the ideas for the Cultural Center programs and classes came easy, but they needed a place to hold the events. She said she asked the Village of New Berlin Mayor Peter Lennon for help. She said he approached Pastor Steve at St. Andrews and questioned if there may be any opportunity to utilize space in the parish hall.
Lennon said, “We’re very thankful for Pastor Steve, he spoke with his parish and they gave their support and said yes.”
Keller, a professional dancer, artist, and teacher, alongside her husband Jeff, who was a longtime professional singer and performer on Broadway, used their experience and creativity to offer classes and activities at the Cultural Center.
Keller said, “I’m all about culture, cultural activity.”
2023 started with a concert and cabaret shows, blessing of the animals, baking class, easter activities, a summer school feeding program and sign tree activity, a Halloween event, and wrapped up the year with a Christmas show and tree lighting.
Keller said the first cabaret show was filled to the brim and the second show was stretched into three nights because of the demand for the event.
Her husband Jeff teaches the village singers how to develop as singers and accept themselves. She said the kids were so happy with their singing and this leads to the butterfly effect.
“One of the beautiful things about the cabarets are the performers lives have changed for the positive,” Keller said. “ All different ages having something new in their life, and the younger ones that were a little shy became filled with belief in knowing they are someone.”
Keller said the summer program was an amazing few weeks. The youth worked on their summer art project, creating inspirational “sign-trees” with words and phrases they chose on the first day of the program. Painting and carpentry were taught by Dee and Paul Stein and when the trees were finished, they were placed around the village.
“It was magnificent because the children came for the first day and met me, ‘the crazy person’ and they became curious to know a little more about the ‘crazy person’ and then they became stimulated and then the parents had to visit and see what their children were talking about,” said Keller.
She said every morning she went dressed as an artist or the artist’s painting and the children were asked to research on the artist or the painting. Daily, after each program, the kids would go home, do their research and return the next day to share the information they found.
Keller said the mayor was continually involved with the center’s activities through the year. She said he felt he must be an example for others to follow and would roll up his sleeves and carry props, help out with activities, and was always looking for additional ways to involve the community.
Lennon said, “One of the nice things about the summer program was that it was tied in with the school feeding program and the kids listened to Keller, taking from her instruction and began to understand the value of the program.”
“The participants learned to clean up litter in the park even though they didn’t create it, and were taught to appreciate their surroundings,” he added.
Keller said the students were respectful while doing their activities and projects, and everyone was so proud. The Tree signs were signed by all that participated. She said the youth love to show their names off on the back of their tree project.
She said the kids can add this to pump up their resume, showing they worked at a summer camp and the parents were appreciative, knowing their children were doing something positive, while they were at work.
Keller said, “This brings positivity. If we didn’t have a way to express ourselves, we would wither; be nothing, be rather bored. The cogs of the wheel can produce gigantic things.”
“There were students that needed kindness, needed to understand they were just as important as the other,” she added, “So, at the end of the summer programs third week, their hearts had changed and sweet moments and hugs were shared.”
Lennon said, “We’ve also built a strong relationship with Unadilla Valley School and Principal Brendan Coyle is very excited about the upcoming astronomy presentation. We’re building our alliances and the school is more than happy putting out flyers, etc.”
He said the maturing relationship has all the ingredients in the making of something very special.
Lennon explained how the Center’s programs changed one of their residents, Ryoko Lewis. He said Lewis has lived in the area for a number of years but was known to stay to herself until she started teaching yoga classes at the Center. She has opened up and become a very big part of the community.
“She has quite a following,” said Lennon.
Keller said, “She bloomed, she was like a flower; like an orchid, and bloomed.”
Lennon added, “Her husband is a nationally-known economist and just co-authored a book with Steve Forbes.”
He said her yoga classes are very popular and she teaches at the Cultural Center on Mondays and Tuesdays at noon and Wednesday nights.
“Many of these people had never met each other before the activities, and now you can’t keep them apart,” he said.
Personal growth and acceptance
Keller said there is a variety of social class, religion, laws, and the mish-mash of all of it, has been trying. She said she wants to get into the minds of the youth to help them understand that all people are more alike than not. She wants all people to know they are the same inside.
Lennon said, “What Andreia is doing here is beyond the kids. We’re all looking for a good feeling after an event. We’re all New Berlinites, no matter what age, background.”
Keller said she had personal challenges to work through. Before moving to the village, she said she used to live in an apartment complex, where you’re not really involved with your neighbors.
“You don’t really get to know who lives right next door,” she said. “Because of that, I had to learn to show up to events and say, okay, this is you and this is me and we will see each other again, and so on.”
She added, “I realized we were going to help each other with gardening, going to events together, and being accountable to one another. It has been different than how I used to live.”
Keller said they are also looking for other places to hold programs and events.
“It’s about morals, and respect and there are a few activities that may not fit into the church surrounding that wouldn’t be proper. We don’t want to be offensive,” said Keller.
She said making decorations out of recycled goods is something she likes to, but filling a room at the church and leaving those items stacked up in the corner, waiting on the activity, is just not respectful to the church.
Lennon said, “We are going to continue to have events at St. Andrews, concerts and things like that but there are other activities we would like to have in other locations in the village and we are looking for other options like open rooms where we can bring in an art class or something like that.”
”We’re looking to find as much space as we can. One facility may have special lighting or a backyard that can hold special events such as post events or gatherings,” he added.
“Father Steve at St. Andrews wants to remain a major part of the cultural scene but agrees growing the Village of New Berlin into a cultural village is important,” said Lennon.
Transitioning, dreams, and events for 2024
The first Cultural Center event for 2024 will be held on February 22 at 7 p.m. at St. Andrews in partnership with The Beardslee Homestead.
Keller said, “This is an amazing young astronomer, Leo Greco, and he will present a free pre-eclipse lecture and series of photos that will help prepare observers for the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, in Central New York.
She said celestial/space inspired snacks will be provided.
Lennon said, “Another upcoming event will be the Easter egg hunt on March 30. It’s going to be a little different this year and we’ll be bringing in the Cultural Center to help out.”
“Rather than just having chocolate in the eggs, we’re going to put in some prizes instead. We’ll have tickets to events, art supplies, and more in about 25 or 30 eggs. We’re hoping to not fixate so much on the food, candy part of it,” he said.
He stated they also want to create a fund for the youth, to award them for their works and show appreciation for their time and efforts. He said it will be nice to recognize their talents and added that this is another way to build up New Berlin.
“The Cultural Center will be transitioning to fewer classes for the youth because some of the classes had only three kids in them. Also, they don’t want to compete against school actives or for profit entities,” said Lennon.
He said the focus is to bring energy to the youth, so they will be able to expand their interests further and take opportunities.
Keller said there are many events planned and a few hopeful events in the making.
Keller hopes to have beautiful tea parties for the ladies and lectures for women on personal matters and more. She also wants to bring manners back and teach the importance of proper eating and how to enjoy a meal. She said above all, she wishes to teach others to be grateful.
Another hope Keller has is to put her 400 Barbies on display as they are educational dolls. She hopes to display them in an exposition.
Lennon said, “Think car museum- creating a scene with what was going on with society when this Barbie came out and why the doll shifted from one look to another.”
She said her collection consists of all races, many countries, all professions and even includes her most recent addition, an army Barbie.
Keller has an additional dream for the Cultural Center in 2024. She said being a dancer from Brazil, and helping create one of the largest dance festivals in the world, has given her a deep desire to bring something similar to the village.
“This will not be a competition, you just come and do some workshops and it’s beautiful,” she said.
Lennon said it all goes back to building the cadres of volunteers, getting an entire village to feel like this is their connection.
“I think we’re at at the point where this is starting to snowball. It’s a special place,” he said.
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