All in the family: Four generations of exploring creativity at Richland Academy of the Arts
For over 28 years, Richland Academy of the Arts has provided opportunities for community members to celebrate and explore their inner artist. For one local family, it has been a part of their lives from the beginning.
“I remember starting in my first dance class when I was five-years old,” recalled Megan Williams. Williams continued, “My grandma picked up a brochure at the post office and signed me up. I think the Academy had only been open for about 6 months. That’s where my journey began.”
Williams is the 3rd generation in her family impacted by Richland Academy. In addition to taking dance, she found a love of theatre, and most of all, singing through the Richland Academy.
“I remember when I was twelve my parents recognized I had natural ability and thought I should begin taking private voice lessons.” Williams continued, “I was really angry about it. They basically had to drag me in kicking and screaming. But it turns out they were right. I absolutely loved my lesson that day.”
In fact, Williams loved it so much that she continued to study voice until she graduated high school, and even studied a vocal minor in college.”
In December 2003, Williams' family went through an unexpected challenge when her dad lost his job of 15 years after Crane Plumbing closed. He was offered an opportunity to go back to school for free. Unfortunately, this meant he wouldn't be able to work full-time. As a result, Williams' mom, Sheri Hughes, found her own opportunity with Richland Academy of the Arts, joining the staff as a cleaning lady to provide a little extra income for the family.
Despite tight finances, Williams remembers never having to miss a lesson, dance class or theatre production.
“My family was able to apply for tuition assistance and because of the assistance program, I could continue to explore my artistic passions,” said Williams. “Richland Academy means so much to my family and many other families in the community. They took care of us when we needed help, like they have for many other students throughout the past 28 years.”
While Williams was away at college, Hughes’ role in the organization evolved, becoming the Assistant Director. In addition, Williams’ Grandmother, Carol Wigal, took a part-time job as a front-desk receptionist.
“I am so thankful for the opportunities provided to my entire family, and personally for the opportunity to grow professionally,” Hughes said.
Wigal shared, “Even after my grandchildren graduated high school and stopped being students, this job allowed me the opportunity to remain connected to the families and be involved in the arts by helping children and adults pursue their passions.”
After college, Williams got married and started a family. They returned to Mansfield for the opportunity to work at Richland Academy.
Williams recalled, “I got a call from my mom one afternoon. She [Hughes] said the Academy needed someone to take a full-time Registrar and Marketing position.”
At the time, there were 4 part-time employees that worked at the front desk; one of them being Wigal. She offered to quit her job at the Academy and take the position of “GG” to babysit Williams’ kids, Halle and Harper, so Williams could accept the new opportunity and continue her journey with Richland Academy in a new way.
Wigal doesn’t mind the switch in roles one bit.
“Each week I see the girls [Halle & Harper] learn and grow, make friends and have fun participating in their weekly classes. Being a part of the family at Richland Academy is truly a blessing. I love talking with Halle’s friends as they wait for classes and taking Harper to music class where we sing, dance and make new friends,” Wigal says.
Williams added, “Now everyone here knows GG who happily accepts her role as surrogate grandmother to the children at the Academy. She brings both of my girls to class, sings in the Women’s Chorus, and volunteers as the accompanist at our annual Father-Daughter Ball.”
Williams is grateful for Wigal’s willingness to pivot her role within the Academy so she could take this new journey. One of her favorite aspects of her role as the Registrar and Marketing Director is having the privilege to chair the Tuition Assistance/Scholarship committee; a program that directly shaped her own journey at the Academy. In her 5 years in this role she has been a part of awarding nearly $125,000 in scholarships to students who may not otherwise have the financial means to participate in the programming.
“My journey has come full circle. I have come from being a student reliant on assistance and scholarship to being able to help provide students with the opportunities offered at Richland Academy through my work with the tuition assistance program,” said Williams. “Through our tuition assistance/scholarship program we are able to ensure that everyone who wants to participate, can. This one of the things I am most passionate about and it makes me proud to bepart of something so wonderful.”
With Hughes as the Assistant Director, Wigal as the resident “GG”, Williams as the Registrar and Marketing Director and Williams’ own daughters actively participating in classes it often feels like a family affair. “We jokingly call it the family business,” said Williams.
“I am honored to be a part of this organization.” Williams continued, “It is most rewarding for me as a parent to encourage my daughters’ creativity and watch them learn and grow. It makes me so happy to see the joy they experience each week when they come to class. Richland Academy is a place where everyone who walks in the door is welcomed into our community and treated as an equal. At Richland Academy of the Arts we strongly believe that creativity exists in everyone and offer a place where anyone can explore the artist within.”
Interested in learning how you can be a part of the Scholarship Program at Richland Academy? Join us for A Night at the Academy - our annual scholarship fundraiser on March 23, 2019. For more information on A Night at the Academy or to learn how you can explore your inner artist call 419-522-8224 or visit our website atwww.richlandacademy.com.