NEW PORT RICHEY — A nonprofit program that benefits at-risk youths between the ages of 5 and 18 has found a new home at the Regency Park Library in New Port Richey.

Thanks to the support of people like state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, the Prodigy Cultural Arts program remains free to the students it serves. Prodigy is a research-based prevention and diversion program that uses visual and performing arts as a means to develop life skills in youth and keep them out of trouble. The 21-year-old program has a tremendous success rate, with approximately 99% of enrolled youth staying out of trouble with law enforcement, according to a study done by Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Mariano presented a $300,000 check to Prodigy at Regency Park Library on Sept. 27 to a class full of students in the middle of an art lesson.

“When I go up to Tallahassee, I get to work on a lot of things and my favorite is projects like this, where it’s going to help kids just like you guys have a better experience and get to learn new things you may not have been able to,” Mariano said. “This is a way for you guys to grow and meet other kids. I’m so grateful to be able to help you guys.”

Mike Trepper, director of the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, said that after a year of offering the program virtually due to COVID, it was time to get students back in a classroom where they didn’t have to see each other through a computer screen. Students learn valuable skills, such as communication, problem solving, and anger management through the arts.

“Our tagline is ‘transforming young lives’ and through their art, they find discipline, they find new skills and mentors, it really helps them do better in school, better in the community and better overall as they grow up and contribute back to the community,” Trepper said.

He added that after students have aged out of the program, many have come back to volunteer with the nonprofit and even joined its staff.

Classes are taught by professional artists and musicians, and this class’s current instructor is a Haitian artist named Junior Polo. Polo has been working with youth since he was 15 years old, and has been with Prodigy for the previous eight years.

“Art helps the kids to be more patient and focused,” Polo said. “I’ve seen that in my own kids that I’m teaching. It’s helped them with other subjects like math and geometry because they’re working with shapes.”

Prodigy is in eight counties across west and central Florida and has helped more than 30,000 students since its inception.

To learn more or get involved with the program, visit www.uacdc.org/index.php/about-prodigy.