Upper Darby fund to help youths is struggling

Posted: July 08, 2014

Aspiring Broadway choreographer Terrance Calvert was in hospice care but still talking about the thrill of performing.

The 21-year-old dancer, who had walked into the Upper Darby Summer Stage community theater as a teenager with "behavioral issues," wanted other kids to find what he had.

So Calvert drafted his mother and a buddy to carry out a mission that he wouldn't be able to execute himself - develop a scholarship program for youngsters who had tough childhoods and offer them chances at the self-discovery that he had found beneath the bright lights.

"T's Kids" is the result. The program provides free tuition to attend one of four summer programs offered by Summer Stage, whose alumni include writer/actress Tina Fey.

But the program has encountered an unexpected problem.

Since it started last year, T's Kids has been virtually a good-deed-in-waiting: Only one student has participated. This summer, the initiative has funding for at least three students but none have applied.

Calvert, who died in May 2012, would be upset.

"He would say, 'Get up and get some kids in here. What are you guys doing!' " said Linda Calvert, Terrance's mother.

Program officials have been unable to find students and are reevaluating the initiative with plans to work on its outreach, said Tristan Horan, Terrance Calvert's friend who helped develop the program.

Organizers wonder if theater isn't considered hip enough or if organizers just haven't gotten out the word.

Horan and Calvert met in the Summer Stage program at its home base, the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center. Calvert was an assistant choreographer and Horan, of Haverford, was a bashful new student.

"Terrance had this spark. If he saw you were shy, he would automatically go up to you and get you talking," said Horan, 19, of Haverford. "He took me under his wing and did a lot for my confidence as a person."

By then Calvert already had undergone his own transformation.

He and his brother Najah were put in foster care after a traumatic early childhood.

George and Linda Calvert of Drexel Hill became their foster parents when Terrance was 3 and Najah was 2. The couple later adopted the brothers.

"Terrance was really a difficult kid to handle. He had real behavior issues," Linda Calvert said. "But on the other hand, his IQ was off the charts."

Terrance was institutionalized for a time and underwent extensive therapy. Family and friends helped out.

"We just used every avenue we could find, and we got him through," Linda Calvert said.

Then at 14, Terrance joined Summer Stage. A burgeoning talent for dancing developed. He portrayed a gang member in West Side Story and the Yellow Brick Road in The Wiz.

"He found his voice and his soul on stage," his mother said. "He was this terrifically angry kid, but [executive director] Harry Dietzler and all of the family at Summer Stage just gave him support, rides, food, and it was truly a community that raised this child."

For much of his time at the program, Calvert nursed a nagging backache. When it failed to go away, he went to a doctor. In March of 2011, Calvert was found to have kidney cancer.

He underwent treatment, but the disease progressed.

The first day he came to Summer Stage in a wheelchair was an emotional one for Calvert and his theater family.

"He was still peppy. He seemed to want to disregard the fact that he was in a wheelchair and go about his life," Horan said.

During Calvert's treatment, the performing-arts program put on a cabaret to raise funds for his family. Some of that money, along with individual donations, has gone to the fund, which totals about $2,000.

Calvert continued at Summer Stage, including helping to choreograph a production of Hairspray.

"When he got sick, he just developed this wisdom and the kids would just listen to him," said Dietzler, founder of Summer Stage. "He moved beyond dance to life lessons."

With the program developed in her son's honor struggling, Linda Calvert says she's ready to be more involved. There is still time for this year with six weeks left in the summer program.

"It took me a while to be able to bounce back and be my own person. I was devastated," Linda Calvert said. "But our family is recovering. I can do it now with a full heart."


kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211

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