Benton, Arkansas -
LITTLE ROCK, AR - They don’t feed the hungry or heal the sick, but they do provide a safe haven for many teens who do not feel comfortable in the athletic department and don’t care to spend their time at the mall.
That’s how executive director, Susan Dill describes the Royal Theatre in downtown Benton.
It's where we find Jenny Johnston, a KARK Community Service Award nominee who's a talented, creative and unselfish role model for these youth.
"Apparently, I was dancing before I could walk. I would pull up and kind of bounce to the music," she says.
For Jenny, all the world’s a stage and she’s merely the choreographer.
"I think it’s just my release. It’s like breathing," says Jenny.
A regular on the stage and behind the scenes throughout her childhood, Johnston continued to perform while in college at Oklahoma City University and even had the once in a lifetime opportunity to dance alongside Andy Williams after graduation.
So, it was a natural fit when she joined Laura Stilwell and Company as a dance teacher after moving back to her hometown in 2008.
"She has been awesome over the years at the studio. She’s easy to work with, she’s fun. She brings in a new fresh outlook to choreography," says Laura Stilwell.
"I just turn on music and dance and do my thing. I don’t know if it is award worthy," Jenny says.
It’s not as much her dancing, but her infectious energy and generosity that has gained attention in the Benton/Bryant community. In 2011, the historic Royal Theater in downtown Benton needed a choreographer.
“Actually, Laura turned it down. She was busy,” Jenny explains.
"I looked at Jenny and I said, 'You are just going to have to take this one. I don’t have the energy to do it,'” Stilwell says.
Jenny had more than energy. She had the dedication and patience. For four years, she has choreographed nearly every musical at the Royal, a volunteer driven community theater.
"It’s the lifeblood. We need to keep our community theater going and the people who work the Royal Theater and give their time to keep it a viable outlet in our community, it’s just amazing," says Stilwell.
"I had a connection and just loved it," Jenny says. "It’s hours on end. Usually, I’ll be at rehearsal or practice and then I’m dreaming of that music all night long."
"I know the very first time that I worked with her was at the Royal and we were doing Scrooge. We were not giving it enough energy. So, what she did was she actually stood on the seats in the middle of the auditorium trying to get us as big as she was out there," says Jeremy Clay.
When Clay took over as drama teacher this year at Bryant High School and began working on West Side Story, Johnston was one of his first calls.
"She said, 'Um sure, I’m very interested,” Clay recalls.
So, after more than 20 years, Johnston is finally back on the stage of her alma mater.
"She has a wonderful rapport with the students. She really does care individually about them and that’s the reason I really love working with her," says Clay.
KARK is already accepting nominations for the 2015 Community Service Awards. If you know someone who goes above and beyond in their community, click here for the nomination form.
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