Volunteers are the heart and soul of the arts in our community. They give their time, talent, and resources to promote the arts. And this is especially true at the Peoria Park District. Whether it be music, dance, theater, visual art, or special events, our volunteers help see our programs through from inception to finale.

This summer we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Peoria POPS Orchestra. The orchestra was organized in June 1977 by a group of six volunteers who shared a love for music and were anxious to play together and perform for our community. Their original intention was to perform a summer program only, but they enjoyed it so much they decided to perform year round. Founding member and orchestra director Diana Roeder, along with other founders, embarked on a mission to share the gift of musical performances with the people in and around Peoria.

Under the umbrella of the Peoria Park District, membership in the orchestra is open to any adult who can play an instrument and read music. The current orchestra has 40 volunteer members who play together under the baton of current director Chris Piper. The members rehearse every Monday night. Many of these rehearsals take place at area senior centers and nursing homes and end as performances for the residents who come to listen to the music.

The volunteer spirit is shared by another of our arts organizations. Community Children’s Theatre was founded in 1957 as a cooperative effort between community volunteers and the Peoria Park District, dedicated to providing a healthy experience in dramatics for the children of the Peoria area. The program is planned and developed by a volunteer advisory board, with administrative support provided by the Park District. This hands-on working volunteer board spends countless hours taking on all production duties including box office, lobby, concessions, costumes, publicity, fundraising, and theatre supervision. They’re joined by the parents of the cast members who assist them in putting on two musical play productions each year, with approximately 4,000 people in attendance.

Each year CCT sponsors Agency Day, a special performance of their summer musical offering 360 complimentary tickets to special needs and underserved children through our community agencies. The board underwrites the royalty fees for this performance, as well as hosting the children at the theatre. CCT also offers one performance of each show they produce, which is interpreted for the hearing impaired. The board members attend and evaluate all of the play performances put on by the 500 students in the Theatre Education For Children (TEC) after school drama program and assist in the production of the Annual Drama Festival, which has an attendance of approximately 1,000 people. Through the tireless efforts of its volunteers, CCT continues to strive to educate and enrich the lives of the children in our community and, in the process, bring fine entertainment to Peoria.

This past July, the Park District and the community lost a beautiful artist, friend, and dedicated volunteer. Betty Merkel Ford taught us to dance, first in her own studio for 40 years, and then with the Park District, coordinating the dance program for 23 years. Even after her retirement in December 2002, Betty continued to volunteer her time with the Park District’s dance studio named in her honor. Betty volunteered her talents for many years with Peoria Players Theatre, Corn Stock, and Caterpillar, choreographing numerous shows.

Peoria is blessed with the spirit of volunteerism. These dedicated workers help our community by fund raising and working with the schools and the community arts organizations. They influence our youth, corporate donors, city leaders, and the public’s attitude toward the arts. They make our community a finer place to live. Kudos to all of you who give so much of yourselves to our community. AA!