Community rallies to support YEPAW after alleged embezzlement
The youth arts organization YEPAW has long shared the message that God can help people overcome anything.
Now it’s showing that it takes that message to heart.
In the wake of accusations that a former administrator stole more than $97,000 from the program, YEPAW leaders and supporters took the microphone at a community rally Sunday to promise the organization would prevail.
And the young performers underscored that message with their voices.
“Oh, how wonderful it is, Jesus promised he’ll take care of me,” sang about 60 teenage choir members in the opening number. Their joyful voices reverberated in the circular sanctuary of West Akron’s Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Many in the audience rose to their feet, swaying, clapping and singing along.
YEPAW — Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop — is both a performing arts and mentoring program. It uses the arts to engage middle and high school youth while it helps them build life skills and encourages them to pursue excellence, said its founder and artistic director, the Rev. Leslie Parker Barnes.
Last month its former executive director, Alexandra (Wright) Thomas, was charged with identity fraud and theft for allegedly opening a credit card account in Barnes’ name to siphon money from the organization.
Community members filled the sanctuary for Sunday’s rally to encourage the young people with their presence and donations. They cheered the performance, tossed money into offering baskets and purchased T-shirts bearing the hashtag message, #YEPAWSTRONG.
The event was a fundraiser, but it had a greater purpose, Barnes said before the rally.
“More than anything, [the purpose is] to charge these young people and tell them they are amazing,” she said. “Dreams really do come true.”
The alleged theft was never mentioned directly during the event, but the message was clear: YEPAW is determined to overcome the financial setback.
“The leadership is still strong. No question about it, God’s hand is still strong,” Kyle Earley, a minister at the church, told the spirited crowd. “Nothing can stop them, because God has already blessed them.”
The rally had a feeling of celebration, and the emphasis was on the impact YEPAW makes in its young participants’ lives. “I don’t know where I’d be,” one young member said in a short video shown during the rally.
The biggest ovation of the night went to Barnes, who is recovering from a fractured ankle and spoke from a wheelchair.
She promised YEPAW would continue to build on its mission of instilling purpose in young people and turning them into leaders.
“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that YEPAW is the Lord’s,” she said, her voice rising above the applause. “He started it, and he’s gonna finish it.”
A Believing the Dream Campaign has been started on the crowd-funding website Go Fund Me to collect donations in support of YEPAW. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme.com/YEPAW.