AURORA | Aurora’s increasingly-impressive arts scene added a national notch to its local belt Monday when representatives from Downtown Aurora Visual Arts received a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

Michelle Obama thanked art educators for not only teaching children skills in arts and humanities, but for inspiring them to dream big.

“You light a fire in them,” she said. “You help them grow emotionally and socially. You give kids a spring in their step when they get out of bed each morning. You give them something to look forward to after school each day.”

The award was in recognition of the local non-profit’s Job Training Program, which is an after-school program for middle schoolers that focuses on developing art, computer and life skills. Susan Jenson, executive director of DAVA, accepted the national award alongside Aurora eighth-grader and job training program participant Boris Cochajil.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized for this award, and we are proud to bring it home to our community,” Jenson said in a statement. “This recognition validates our efforts over the last 20 plus years to impact the economic vitality of Aurora by engaging youth in the arts and opening their eyes to a future of possibilities.”

Selected from a group of over 350 nominations and 50 finalists, DAVA was one of 12 youth development programs from around the country to be honored for the annual award.

On top of being invited to attend Monday’s ceremony in Washington D.C., DAVA will also receive a $10,000 grant as well as communications and capacity-building support from the President’s committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

For more than 20 years, DAVA has offered free, after-school and summer programs to Aurora youths between the ages of 3 and 17. The non-profit focuses on providing local kids with a safe environment to develop artistic and technological skills through a variety of media.

Free for local students between the ages of 11 and 14, the job training program is held twice a week at the DAVA facility on Florence street.

“The Job Training Program goes a long way toward developing problem solvers, responsibility and team work, “ Jenson told The Sentinel in September.

Currently, DAVA is displaying its “Artbots” exhibit,which features paintings and sculptures of robots, as well as fully animated ones, created by DAVA students.

The first lady presented national arts and humanities awards to 12 after-school programs from across the country and one international program in India. Some of the programs teach dance, music and graphic design.

The White House ceremony included a head-bopping musical performance from the Delta Blues Museum Arts and Education Program Band of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and remarks by Jennifer Guadalupe Gonzalez, 16, of Chicago, who explained how acting in a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater gave her a boost in confidence.

The first lady encouraged the students to embrace their opportunities in the arts, but to also remember their education is just as important.

“Your education is critical,” she told the youngsters. “Don’t play around with it. It’s the best investment that you’ll make.”

The 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards are hosted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with three national cultural agencies.

Other programs recognized during the ceremony were:

—¡City Arts! Community AfterSchool Program, Providence ¡City Arts for Youth! Inc., Providence, Rhode Island.

—everybody dance! after-school program, The Gabriella Foundation, Los Angeles.

—Project STEP Inc., Intensive String Training Program for Black and Latino Young People, Boston.

—Workshop Houston, Middle School Program, Houston.

—New Ballet Ensemble, Memphis, Tennessee.

—New Victory Usher Corps, The New Victory Theatre, New York.

—Publicolor Inc., Continuum of Design-based Programs, New York.

—Teens Make History, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.

—TeenSpace Circle of Mentoring, Santa Ana Public Library, Santa Ana, California.

International Spotlight Award:

—Salaam Baalak Trust, New Delhi and Mumbai, India.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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