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For At-Risk Teens, Creative Solutions Offers A Second Chance Through Performing Arts

The kids are not allowed to wear red or blue when they show up to the SMU campus to participate in a summer camp -- those are gang colors. And they're not allowed to smoke during breaks or anywhere on the premises. The environment should allow even the most hardened among them to feel like kids again.

Fifteen years ago, Lisa Schmidt founded Creative Solutions, which teaches at-risk teens on probation to be productive by channeling their emotions creatively. This visual and performance art camp is presented by Big Thought, which serves 300,000 children, families and educators each year, in partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

All this week, teenagers participating in the program have been practicing hard and putting final touches on art projects in preparation for Thursday's play and gallery opening inside the SMU Meadows School of the Arts. The 45-minute play is called The Switch, a title chosen by the kids to represent a personal change in their own lives -- as in, going from perpetual darkness to living in the light. The video above offers a preview of tomorrow's performance and some insight into the professional artists working with these youths.

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Although the program is close to legal driving age, this year it's being highlighted anew, mainly because Big Thought is acting like a proud parent. Since 1993, the program has served more than 20,000 children ages 13 to 17. Creative Solutions also won the 2004 President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities Coming Up Taller Award presented by Laura Bush.

Sixty-eight teens participated in this year's seven-week art camp. The performances and gallery exhibition are unveiled on Thursday at 1 and 7 pm and Friday at 1 p.m. at SMU.

"A lot of people perceive at-risk teens or these kids here to be hopeless or scary," Schmidt says. "They want to learn. They want to succeed. They try very, very hard. I think the message they want to get out to greater Dallas is, 'Hey, give us a chance.'"

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