Arts center opens for kids in need

Arts center opens for kids in need
A Step Beyond students perform for visitors at the opening of the Dave Langlois Youth Center at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido on Nov. 27. The center caters to disadvantaged youth in Escondido and San Marcos. Photo by Steve Horn

A facility serving socio-economically disadvantaged third- through 12th-graders from Escondido and San Marcos recently cut the ribbon on a new administrative and educational building. A Step Beyond will enjoy a 30-year lease on the grounds of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Located next to Escondido Creek and on the edge of Grape Day Park, the newly minted Dave Langlois Youth Center will house A Step Beyond’s administrative offices, as well as its counseling center and academic study space. It namesake, Dave Langlois, worked in the real estate industry in Orange County with Frank Foster, the executive director and founder of A Step Beyond. The two met while doing work together for the Santa Ana-based organization The Wooden Floor.

Langlois passed away in August from Parkinson’s disease at age 79. His widow, Luana, spoke at youth center’s opening ceremony and also served as the ceremonial ribbon cutter.

“All of you, no matter how small your contribution, have conceived and built an organization that is going to give and it’s going to positively affect children for years,” she said. “It’s really a living memorial to my husband and he loved children and he was always concerned not only with their access to education, but to joy. And this is exactly what One Step Beyond does.”

Foster, who lives in Carlsbad and formerly worked as the CEO of Fieldstone Homes, said in an interview that A Step Beyond was created to replicate The Wooden Floor and serve as a community epicenter for disadvantaged youth. The Wooden Floor has existed since 1983 and A Step Beyond began operations in 2014 when it took in its first group of third- and fourth-graders.

“The program has three basic components,” Foster said. “Its foundation is modern and contemporary dance education. Boys and girls, they love to dance, and they become very good at it. It also has an academic program, which spans everything from after school homework help to a maker space we just built.”

On top of dance and school help, college entrance help also will be a mainstay of what A Step Beyond provides. Regular access to a staffed social worker, too, sits as the third core tenet of what the organization will provide to students and their families.

“These kids are the lowest level income-wise in the community and so they do face some pretty severe challenges,” Foster explained. “We have a team here that helps them with that, from crisis counseling all the way to group counseling for the kids where they meet regularly and do it regularly. They learn how to talk about their issues.”

Araceli Huerta, the family services manager for A Step Beyond, said that her role is to create a “safe environment” for students and their families “to ensure that their social and emotional needs are met.”

“We believe that we support the families in order for the child to be successful in life,” Huerta said. “And so that’s a big part of my job, to connect with the families and make sure they have the basic needs, but also to be available whenever there is a situation in the family or they’re having challenges and provide the support that they need, whether that’s connecting them to the resources out in the community, providing them with referrals or providing them with in-house individual counseling for the student or the family.”

By the fall of 2022, Foster explained, the organization will max out at 350 students in grades three through 12, taking in 35 students every year who will begin their march toward high school graduation and college entrance. A Step Beyond emphasizes the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) educational model and has technology that can be used on-site for its students including laptops, a 3D printer, several dance studios, a music studio with several guitars, a photography room, a computer coding room and more. 

In the research prior to founding A Step Beyond, Foster said his team found that at least 75,000 families live below the poverty line along the State Highway 78 corridor situated between Oceanside and Escondido. Foster also credited Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz for her behind-the-scenes efforts in realizing the new administrative and educational building.

“It’s a bar bell and the two biggest (population center) sides are Oceanside and Escondido by double Vista and San Marcos,” said Foster. “So, we wanted to end up in one of those two locations and we were introduced to Olga Diaz, who was the deputy mayor at the time. She got wind of what we were doing and introduced us to the facility and the people and it was a good match.”

Diaz, during the ceremony, said that making the edifice a reality sits as one of the most positive political moments during her decade serving on the City Council.

“Most of the moments aren’t this joyous,” Diaz said to a crowd of full of laughter. “But I was at the right place at the right time” when meeting Foster. 

For more information on A Step Beyond, follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram or sign up for its email newsletter.

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