Since July 2012, Behailu Academy has become a vital part of he NODA arts community, offering free, after-school arts-based programs that connect students to local artists who serve as mentors. (Photos: Bryant Carter)

A student receives a lesson in photograpy at Behailu Academy.

Locals usually flood the popular “NODA” arts district’s monthly gallery crawls to soak up the Charlotte arts scene. But at the former Green-Rice gallery, a special showcase is opening.

Families enter the gallery marked by a sky-blue backdrop outlining children. Inside photographs are posted and films play. Photography students show parents the pieces created during summer camp at Behailu Academy.

Since July 2012, Behailu Academy has become a vital part of he NODA arts community. Founded by DeeDee Mills, a former Carolinas Panthers public relations official, it’s named after her son, an Ethiopian orphan. Behailu means “strength overcame obstacles.”

The center offers free, after-school arts-based programs that connect students to local artists who serve as mentors. Artists teach subjects incding dance, music production, painting, computer animation, comedy improvisation, and spoken word/rap.

Lori Krzeszewski, executive director, said Behailu runs Mondays through Thursdays, from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Each Friday is open studio, a time when students can work one-on-one with visiting artists or independently. Non-Behailu students are also welcome, she said

Krzeszewski came on as a consultant last January. She taught in Charlotte Mecklenburg-Schools for five years, and has a Ph.D. in outreach and advocacy.

“It’s been amazing,” she said.

Behailu serves 45 students from Garinger High School and Eastway Middle School. Free transportation is provided. During youth showcases students can exhibit art, preform spoken word, or recite poetry.

On a recent Friday, the students held an event to showcase their work and mark the end of summer camp. The Light Factory hosted most of its 2013 summer camp at Behailu, where students attended photography-based sessions like stop-motion animation and guerilla filmmaking.

Although admission is $230 dollars, Krzeszewski said Light Factory provided 48 student with scholarships. Krzeszewski said some of the topics have been the same, but students keep coming back. “I guess they rather be here than home playing video games,” she said.

“All of them have such good eyes for composition,” said Katie McKeon, Light Factory instructor. McKeon, a UNC Charlotte photography major, taught fashion and creative digital photography.

McKeon says the camp definitely gives students a head start on professional photography. “I told a six grader’s parents that she could do this forever if she wanted to,” said McKeon.

Krzeszewski said one of the goals at Behailu is to build strong individuals who are willing to take chances in life. She said one of their students who acted in “Seussical The Musical!” would not perform with anyone before coming to Behailu.

“It makes me so proud because we have great kids,” Krzeszewski said. “It makes me feel proud, seeing them graduate and create art is rewarding and exciting.”

Originally focused on arts, Behailu also brought in an academic component — The Beyond Behailu program — which helps students with college and career readiness, finding jobs and college applications.

Graduating seniors without work experience highlighted a need for the program. Krzeszewski said one student began working over the summer with a caterer who serviced a showcase.

“At the end of the day if they’re not accepted for a Grammy or an Emmy, that’s okay, said Mills, “but if they graduate or get a job that what matters more.”

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