By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Sally Dix was eight years old when a taste of culture opened her eyes to a world of possibilities.
Her father took her to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. That experience ignited a dream. Dix decided she wanted be a marine biologist. She returned to Shedd Aquarium as a 21-year-old intern in the Marine Mammal program.
“I was personally inspired to do that because of my visit as an 8-year-old,” Dix said.
That experience was also a life lesson for Dix, now executive director of Bravo Greater Des Moines. A lesson in the value of giving kids a chance to experience culture and the arts.
Bravo and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, two of the Principal Charity Classic’s Tournament Charity Partners, teamed up to create “Connecting Kids and Culture,” a program that provides students from kindergarten through fifth grade an opportunity to experience culture and the arts. The program covers public and private schools in three counties – Polk, Dallas and Warren.
“There are so many studies that talk about the implications of exposure to the arts at a young age,” Dix said. “And it’s so much more than developing an appreciation for the arts. That’s certainly something that we hope it does. We also know that exposure to the arts increases test scores. It increases attendance in schools. It creates a better culture, which makes people want to come to school and want to learn.”
The Principal Charity Classic has raised nearly $10 million in the decade Principal has been title sponsor of the tournament. Those dollars have made programs like “Connecting Kids and Culture” possible.
“This is not about the one-day field trip the Principal Charity Classic is funding,” Dix said. “This is about the community of people that the Principal Charity Classic is building for the future. It’s amazing.”
In 2015 alone, charity dollars covered nearly 60,500 unique, educational arts and cultural experiences for students. Since 2007, the “Connecting Kids and Culture” program has provided more than $1,281,300 to schools in the three-county area, exposing more than 309,500 students to arts and cultural learning experiences.
Dix sees the program as a way to expose youngsters to a whole new world while giving teachers an assist.
“We have amazing cultural amenities in this community,” Dix said “Gosh, a trip to the Des Moines Art Center is a trip to a world-class museum, right in their own back yard. And it’s a way we can support the education system. They don’t have to be an expert. The Art Center can be the expert, and the kids can still get the exposure. And it allows the teachers to focus on other things that teachers need to be the experts for.”
It’s hard to find a downside in that forward-thinking approach.
“The educators win, the organizations win and the community wins, because we’re developing these amazing human beings that are going to be our future volunteers, our future employees, and our future advocates,” Dix said. “The downside is that it wouldn’t be happening if not for the Principal Charity Classic. The only thing that we really hope people understand is that this is a great thing and the funding is such a critical piece of it.”
Dix is passionate about the doors that can open for a youngster when arts and culture come to life.
She remembers when astronaut and Iowa native Jim Kelly piloted a space shuttle crew for a mission to the International Space Station. The Science Center of Iowa put the early morning launch on the dome of the planetarium.
“There was a four-year-old kid sitting there, with his matchbox shuttle, rubbing it while the space shuttle was taking off,” Dix said. “I will never forget it.”
She’ll tell you about Dr. Chris Nelson, president and CEO of Des Moines-based Kemin Industries who was inspired as a child to pursue science as a career because of a visit to the Science Center. She’ll tell you about American explorer Charlie Wittmack, also inspired to dream big as a result of his time as a preschooler at the Science Center. And some day, a youngster might do great things after an experience funded by “Connecting Kids and Culture.”
“It’s a long-term investment,” Dix said. “But it pays off.”
And the opportunity is there because of dollars raised by the Principal Charity Classic.
“There’s not another program like this,” Dix said. “The Principal Charity Classic makes this happen.”