Oregon Public Broadcasting

Caldera is a place where an impromptu violin lesson takes place next to a group of kids making tie-dyed shirts, while another group of kids plays a card game called spoons.

Summer camp is just one part of Caldera. It's a year-round program for middle and high-school students from low-income households. It provides arts education and ohter support until they graduate.

"We are a non-profit that focuses on bringing arts and environmental education to underserved youth," said Turia Autry, Caldera's education director. "And our goal is to help transform their lives so that they can be more creative, more expressive, and see their unique standpoint as something that's valuable. Not just to themselves and to the community, but to the whole world that they live in."

Caldera was started more than a decade ago by the Wieden family, led by Dan and his daughter, Cassie. Dan Wieden founded the well-known advertising agency Wieden and Kennedy. He said the idea for Caldera sprang from a sense of concern.

"A lot of times, in the industry, my industry, advertising, we hire a bunch of white, middle class kids," he said. "Pay them enormous sums of money, to create communications, oftentimes aimed at the inner city and stealing the inner city's culture and selling it back to them in order to move products and services. And that just seemed to me kinda dumb. And, so, it made me start thinking about how do -- what -- how do we get at this problem?"

His solution was to create a program to surround students with artists and other creative role models. He hoped to improve their chances of success by inspiring them to graduate from high school.

Wieden: "100 percent of Caldera students go on to high school and 98 percent of our students graduate from high school.:

Each summer, the camp offers a week of arts workshops.

"The arts give you a way of expressing your voice and exposing yourself in a way that's a little more safe," said Tricia Snell, Caldera's executive director.

Cassie Wieden said the camp often introduces children to nature for the first time.

"There's always that initial, 'How far do we have to walk? Really? That sounds really far,'" she said. "So there's a little bit of a resistance at first. But then once you kind of get into the rhythm of a hike or a canoe paddle or something, there's a real serenity that comes over all of us, you know? You just find the rhythm of what you're doing and you feel calm again."

When summer ends, students go back to school and Caldera goes with them.

The program provides mentors for ongoing check-ins with students, and artists in residetns to teach in their classroom.

"Life isn't a destination. We don't magically arrive. It's all about the process of getting there," said Autry, the education director. "For me the successful moments are when you see what they started with and where they ended up, and you see that they made a journey."

Dan Wieden said Caldera gives students a chance to think in a different way.

"I think Caldera is a disruption," he said. "I think it's this amazing thing that throws you off balance, challenges you with something new, makes you rethink who you are, and what you're actually capable of doing."

On the Web: Print-maker Roger Peet at Caldera

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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