Sometimes it’s youngsters in need of the arts the most who have little-to-no access to them at all. That conundrum is why House of Pais - Youth Development Center, located at in the Academy neighborhood of North St. Louis, launched “Children of Promise.” The program (an A&E PNC Project Grant recipient), strives to empower young people with various challenges from low-income households in the St. Louis area by introducing them to the arts.

“We began Children of Promise in the early 1990s when schools began discontinuing arts programs because of a lack of funding,” says Feryle Cooper, associate executive director of House of Pais. “We wanted to help young people develop and continue their own creative abilities, and become better acquainted with their talents. We also wanted to use the arts to help them build self-esteem.”

The nonprofit, which was begun by Cooper in 1988, provides support services to children and young adults between the ages six and twenty-one with behavioral, social and/or physical challenges. The Center offers individual and group counseling, art therapy, recreation therapy, life skills training and specialized learning opportunities to help children more effectively navigate their classrooms and home situations.

“We also work closely with the children’s families so that these kids can reach their full potential,” adds Cooper. “Some of our children have particularly difficult concerns and get teased about them. They may go to special classes to get help with reading or math. Some of our kids have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and act out in the classroom. Their parents might not understand what their child is going through, so we are here to help them understand and support them and their child.”

Cooper estimates that Children of Promise works with about 100 children each year with programs typically taking place after school and on Saturdays.  Community professionals teach the various arts classes. For example, artist Sheow Chang helped Children of Promise students combine Asian and Western styles to create 3-D sculpture that were exhibited at the Taylor Community Science Resource Center at the St. Louis Science Center.  Photographer Lois Ingrum taught students the basics of digital photography and helped them document their Academy neighborhood by capturing its people, homes, churches and businesses in photographs that were displayed in the Public Policy Research Center’s Photography Project Gallery at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“And we now have instruments – guitars, keyboards and we just got some drums – so students will have a chance to learn to play [music] both individually and together,” continues Cooper. “Some of these children have behavior problems and need help learning to be kind and listening to one another. Playing music together can help them to learn those skills.”

Cooper says the mission of House of Pais is always to increase a young person’s self-esteem and self-worth. “We know that the arts have the power to do that, which is why Children of Promise is so effective.”

For more information about House of Pais and Children of Promise, visit  To view the House of Pais children’s photography exhibit, visit For more about PNC Project Grants, click here.