Advocacy manifests in many forms. In the case of Theatre on a Mission, it manifested as the brainchild of a Junior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts about five years ago. Chelsey Cain, now 24, started the non-profit organization after having spent several years exchanging letters with a pen-pal in Kenya to whom she was introduced through an orphanage by the name of Foundation Stone Children's Center, established by friends of her family serving as missionaries in Africa. At the time she felt compelled to reach out further to her Kenyan friend in an effort to do more for her and her fellow classmates across the globe. The idea to use her passion for theatre as a means to connect and raise money and awareness was the beginning of what would become a growing and thriving non-profit dedicated to bringing the love and joy of performance art to children living in impoverished locations.
Since it's inception in 2014, Theatre on a Mission has executed many successful mission trips to Kenya, Haiti, Costa Rica, and already has plans to expand further. This week we sat down with Chelsey to learn more about Theatre on a Mission and get to know about a small non-profit making a big difference in the lives of the students and families it touches.
Thank you so much for chatting with us today! Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi Friends!!! My name is Chelsey Cain and I have a huge passion for the arts, service, and non-profit work. I’m the founder of Theatre on a Mission, established in 2014. I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and there is no other place I would rather call home.
You graduated from the University of North Florida in the Spring of 2017 with an undergraduate degree in Non-Profit Administration and earned a graduate certificate in 2018 for Non-Profit Management. Have you always known that you wanted to serve in the non-profit sector?
Nope! I always grew up thinking I was going to be a teacher just like my mom. However, my drive for service really grew in high school and became a reality in college. I’m so thankful that UNF has a program that cultivated my passion.
You started Theatre On A Mission as a Junior in High School at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts after being pen-pals with a student in Kenya for a number of years. What was it about this particular experience that inspired you to form this organization, and why did you choose theatre as a medium through which to connect?
I choose the vehicle of Theatre because I was a student at Douglas Anderson at the time. I did not have a lot to give, but I had my passion and love for the arts and I knew that was something I could share with my pen-pal, Aisha, and all of her friends. I had family friends that served as missionaries in Kenya and they started an orphanage called Foundation Stone Children's Center, and it was through their organization that I got connected to Aisha.
The inspiration to establish Theatre on a Mission as an official 501c3 came from seeing the impact our teams had on the students we worked with. We'd receive letters from the students asking us to come back and teach them more about theatre.
On your website, you have a photo of yourself and your TOM team holding a check awarded to your organization through One Spark where you were voted the #1 Art Project of 2014. How long had you been in development and/or operation when you presented your project for evaluation, and how did you choose to distribute your grant money?
Our first mission trip took place in 2012, so we'd only been in operation for two years at that time. We used the grant to help fund the theatre camp, helped to provide some additional needs at the orphanage, assisted in establishing a water well in a local village, and gave funds to a dialysis center where we performed for the patients.
Through TOM you and your team have taken your project to Kenya, Costa Rica, and Haiti. What was unique about the experiences you had in each country? How did the missions differ? What similarities did they share?
Beyond theatre, your organization offers other forms of assistance to the communities you visit. What kind of relief does TOM facilitate and how do you feel the TOM mission improves and enriches the lives of the students with whom you work?
TOM is unique in that we can use theatre as a way to provide for the different needs in the countries we get to work in - either through our fundraising efforts or by way of collecting donations. On our first trip to Kenya, we helped provide a running water system to the orphanage. Additionally, Kenya and Haiti needed school supplies and sporting equipment. Costa Rica needed musical instruments and art supplies to start art programs in the school. All three countries needed basic medical supplies.
I also feel that our trips are a life-changing experience for the students that travel with us from the states - it requires them to get out of their comfort zones and approach situations with humility.
Where is Theatre on a Mission headed next? What are your plans for growth and expansion? Is this a lifelong mission for you?
One of my long-term goals is to expand Theatre On A Mission to include a study abroad program for colleges and universities so that students can get course credits for their work as they enrich the lives of others while enriching their own. Theatre on a Mission has had a significant impact on my life - I will always stay connected to the communities that we serve, and that is an experience I am eager to share.
We are also very excited to announce that in the summer of 2019 TOM is headed to Guatemala! For more information please visit theatreonamission.org
What are some of the challenges you face as a professional living and working within the non-profit sector in Northeast Florida?
Funding is always a challenge, but it is one that is such an essential aspect of any non-profit. I’m lucky that the community of Northeast Florida is very compassionate and generous.
What have you learned about yourself through your giving and your work?
I have learned that the world doesn’t need my sympathy; it needs my action.
How do you define success in what you do?
Success to me is defined by the smiles and hugs from the children I get the privilege to serve.
We'd like to thank Chelsey for her participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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