WASHINGTON — Every spring since its inception, ASAP! (After School Arts Program) has held a celebration of young writers. Youngsters from around the area submit an original piece of writing; all of these are read by a committee and a dozen or so are chosen as finalists. These were then, in turn, assigned to local celebrities and writers and read aloud at the reception.

This year, in recognition of the organization’s significant anniversary, a special program has been planned. The event takes place at The Gunnery in Washington, on Saturday, June 1 from 6 to 10:30 p.m.

“This is really a celebration of ASAP! and the amazing inroads it has made in enabling children of all ages and from all over the area to participate in a variety of arts,” says Tal Fagin, president of ASAP!’s board of directors. “So we have designed a completely different program. “It’s called ‘One Night Only’ and it will showcase all of the ASAP! programs, from African dance, Hip Hop, drumming, puppetry, young musicians playing side by side with the Waterbury Symphony. Young children, adult artists, alumni, and current students will all participate. We did hold our annual writers’ competition and those winners will be sprinkled in among the performances.”

ASAP! and the wide reach of its programs would never have existed but for the vision of JoAnne Torti, its executive director.

“I moved to Connecticut from Maine in 1999,” says Torti. “and was invited to attend a meeting organized by the Waterbury Foundation, now the Connecticut Community Foundation. It was composed of teachers, representatives from arts organizations, and artists. The purpose was to come up with a proposal to start a much needed after school arts program. I am from the arts and ran a nonprofit dance company and have always loved kids and putting together programs to encourage their creativity.”

Torti came up with a proposal for a program tailored to increasing arts opportunities for middle schoolers. A choreographer, dancer, and teacher, Torti hoped to include local artists and arts organizations teaching workshops in dance, music, and the visual arts. “Everyone seemed to like the idea and asked if I would take on the project,” Torti says. “I said yes because I have always had this passion for education and the arts.”

Little did Torti know that the idea would blossom into a highly successful after school arts program that now reaches 9,000 area children. She does all the program planning herself, adding new classes and constantly reaching out to the community of artists and teachers and inviting them to be part of her dream.

“We all work in collaboration,” she explains. “We do programs with some schools that are very poor and welcome anything we can do to help. We also work with Region 12, which offers a number of after school programs, but none in the arts. We can come in and provide a teacher for specific art form, who is excited about the possibilities of developing a child’s talent. The teacher passes on that passion and encourages the creativity in each student.”

And it has all worked amazingly well and ASAP! keeps raising the bar and producing students who get the chance to follow their passions. And that is certainly a cause for celebration. Hence the special anniversary performance.

The show has been curated by Nicole Tongue, a creative director and choreographer who has worked on many operas, including “Carmen,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Rigoletto,” “La Boheme” and “The Barber of Seville.”

The evening’s co-hosts are U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes and Michael Lombardi. It is indeed fitting to have Hayes involved since prior to winning her seat, she was a teacher and was recognized as a Connecticut and National Teacher of the Year. Lombardi is an American actor and musician lauded for his recurring role as firefighter Mike Silletti in the television series “Rescue Me.” He is also founder and front man for the rock group Apache Stone.

Fagin explains, “To have Jahana be part of this evening really reaffirms our mission: To foster creative, hands-on learning through the arts. ASAP! is a nonprofit arts organization programming that impacts kids by exposing them to experiential learning opportunities that encourage them to think creatively, ask questions, explore possibilities, and believe in themselves and their talents.”

ASAP! One Night Only will take place at The Gunnery in Washington. Following the show, the festivities will continue inside a tent. There is a silent auction with carefully curated items, followed by a delicious dinner, prepared with produce from local purveyors and the chance to dance to music provided by a nine-piece band with special guest appearances.

While the young writers portion of the annual event has been modified, the celebration will still include the Frank McCourt Teacher of the Year Award.

It is the perfect opportunity to have fun, see friends, and support an invaluable organization. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.asapct.org or call 860-868-0740.

Connecticut Media Group