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R.Ed.I. Foundation aims to change teen stats from new home in Wheaton

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 7:01 p.m. CST

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WHEATON — For more than three years, the R.Ed.I. Arts and Education Foundation has used real-life scenarios to educate teens about a variety of issues, including depression, bullying, and drug and alcohol abuse. But until March 8, the group was doing this without a permanent home.

The foundation's actors would rehearse their show called "Stand Up! Change Teen Statistics" at Moves Dance Studio in North Aurora, owned by the organization's founder, Kimberly Farah. On March 8, group members moved to their very own space at 100 Bridge St. in Wheaton. A fundraiser for the organization was held March 9 in Naperville.

Farah started R.Ed.I. (Reach. Educate. Inspire.) Arts and Education Foundation in 2006, but the group did not begin performing until fall 2009. Her own background in the performing arts influenced her decision to form the foundation.

"For me, it was always understanding the power of the performing arts, that this format to be used for prevention is very powerful," Farah said. "And so it was important to make this type of program available, understanding the potential it has to help the kids."

"Stand Up! Change Teen Statistics" is a 55-minute show divided into 10 sketches strung together thematically, artistic director Diana Martinez said. Each sketch addresses a different issue using its own style, and the performance includes four songs and a rap as well, she said.

In addition to depression, bullying and substance abuse, the show also discusses teen pregnancy, self-mutilation, prejudice/hate crimes, Internet abuse such as "sexting" and cyber-bullying, teen suicide, body image/unhealthy weight control, physical violence and peer pressure.

The sketches come from true stories the foundation has collected from teens through interviews and other feedback. The show has been adapted over time to reflect language, technological, pop culture and social media changes, in order to lend another level of authenticity to the performance.

The show is performed to about 30 to 35 junior highs and high schools in the Midwest each year. It has received overwhelming feedback from teens, both at the shows and through the group's Facebook page, "REdI Arts and Education Foundation."

Sometimes students will even comment on the Facebook page while a performance is happening at their school, said Gabriella Mercado, who's been acting in the show for four years.

Nonprofit R.Ed.I. Arts and Education Foundation fundraises to support the costs associated with the show through events such as its Emerald Ball dinner and dancing gala March 9.

The group also accepts online donations through its website, www.redifoundation.org. Show sponsorships are available for about $2,500, which can help to bring the performance to a school that may really need it but can't afford it, Martinez said.

"There's just such a tremendous need for someone to reach out on this level to kids, and there's not very many people doing it," she said.

The actors in "Stand Up! Change Teen Statistics" said it's common for teens to come up to them after a show looking for help.

"The fact that the show can inspire them to do that is amazing," Mercado said.

Dakota Rhodes, who's been acting in the show for five years, agreed.

"It's a beautiful thing," he said.

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