Executive Director Marta Howell of the Friends of Boca Grande is preparing the busiest season ever attempted by her organization.
Now entering her third season directing the Friends agenda, Howell shares what to expect from programs this season such as the National Theatre Live events, the movie series, the Munchkins and the unprecedented Civil War Reflections production.
QUESTION: Let's start with the little people. What has happened with the Munchkins preschool program?
ANSWER: Right now, we do not have any children registered in this program. That does not mean we are not going to offer this program. But we are looking to find children and families who need the program.
Q: Is the Munchkin slowdown simply a product of it being a cyclical time of fewer children on the island?
A: I think that is very much part of it. We have the same number of kids we had last year in our after-school program. We have about 30 in the after-school program. Island School has about 30 kids as well. So at the elementary level we have the same number of kids; it's the little ones that are missing.
Marta Howell at a glance
Occupation: The first executive director for the Boca Grande Community Center
Start date: July 2010
Birthdate: Sept. 24, 1953
Married: 30 years with twin daughters
Hometown: Port Huron, Mich.
Residence: Lancaster, Pa., and Boca Grande
Qualifications: community development professional for numerous not-for-profit organizations with expertise in management
Education: bachelor's degree in urban planning from Michigan State University
Q: Who would benefit from the Munchkins program?
A: Munchkins is a preschool program before children start school at ages 3 and 4 preparing them for kindergarten. It's a strange world we live in that children now need to be prepared for kindergarten (laughs). But they do!
Q: It's terrible you can be behind the curve at age 3. My kindergarten was all nap, recess, milk and cookies and story time. What does today's preschooler need to learn?
A: Kids when they enter kindergarten are expected to be able to write their names and recognize some words plus all the things that we learned in kindergarten.
Q: How many attended Munchkins last year?
A: We had eight last year.
Q: Is that why Laquata Meade had to go, not enough preschool students?
A: No, no, no. We can't talk about personnel issues with employees but she decided she would not teach the summer program - so for the first time we did not have a summer program. I think that probably hurt the Munchkins program more than we realized. The kids come into the fall program from the summer program.
Q: Can Angela Colosimo, the Friends youth program director, revive the Munchkins?
A: Her job since she was hired in 2008 was to supervise the Munchkins program and the after-school program. She has knowledge and experience in both those areas. With Miss Laquata resigning, I asked Angela if she was prepared to step in and teach Munchkins. She said absolutely! She's got the credentials and skill to be able to do it and is excited to do it.
Q: Let's take a spin around some of the other events planned for one of the most ambitious seasons ever scheduled by the Friends of Boca Grande. Headlined by National Theatre Live, it appears there will be more sophisticated entertainment than ever this season. Did National Theatre Live live up to your expectations last year in its first exposure to island audiences?
A: I don't think a lot of people knew about what National Theatre Live is. Our expectation was as an introduction to the community. Many of the theaters across the country had thee same experience (of low attendance). Regal and AMC theaters all dropped it. We've had calls from Sarasota and Boca Raton, from all over the state of Florida, asking how can we buy tickets? So we're actually expecting a better year this year.
Q: How much does it cost to put on such a prestigious program as National Theatre Live?
A: The wonderful thing for us is NTL has a special program for not-for-profit organizations. We pay for the programs by splitting the gate with National Theatre. So, if two people come and watch the show, NTL gets half the money and they are happy with it (laughs). We both hope that attendance is stronger than that but we did show NTL to an audience of three one time last year (laughs).
Q: How many NTL shows are there this season?
A: There are four and they usually add a couple as we go through the season.
Q: As you head into your third season as executive director of the Friends of Boca Grande, what do you hope for to make it a successful one?
A: We're trying something different with the weeklong Civil War Reflections program. We've added onto it a community aspect from April 19-21. The 97th Pennsylvania Voluntary Infantary Re-enactment Regiment will come out here and camp on the grounds in a North and a South camp. They'll have a two-day skirmish. We've told them no cannons! This is a prelude to our Civil War week. This is our first time ever to plan a weeklong event like this
Q: What else is new?
A: Our website has been redesigned and there will be more events inevitably. We are also trying to reinvigorate the Writer's Workshop with help from Alice Gorman. We're bringing in an author friend of Alice's for an intensive weekend workshop.
Q: As the Friends grow larger, is it fair comment to say it's caused other nonprofit programs to contract and maybe even become absorbed by the Friends?
A: We are definitely trying to respond to what people would like to see and do here. We've added more musical events so from that standpoint you're right. We have added more but what we're doing is adding it in a more planned way. In previous years it was more spontaneous; Oh, let's have a concert. Now we're planning and promoting.
Q: When the Friends hired you and Denise Searle, wasn't it with the mandate to do more for the community?
A: When the Friends hired up and brought Denise and me on board, I think they were adding capacity for the organization to do more. So from that aspect, it's definitely true we're doing more than we've ever done before. But we're very sensitive to making sure everybody has their time slot here at the community center.
Q: What's going on with the weekly movies?
A: We'll still take up the auditorium on Tuesday and Thursday with free movie nights. People like our movies, expect our movies. If we get bumped by other events, we get a little criticism about "Where's the movie?" This year we're going to try to do more new-release stuff. Tuesdays, we'll continue our commitment to documentaries and the foreign films but we're going to try to move more in a new-release direction with those so we become more current. The other thing we're going to do is experiment with showing very popular movies twice so people have two opportunities to see a movie.