By: Jen Russon
High school senior, Sophia Berman is on a mission to help other children experience the connectivity and empowerment she has as a child of the performing and visual arts. In 2016, she founded The Children of the Arts Foundation, a nonprofit that supports local youth in their artistic endeavors.
One might say Sophia grew up in an art museum. Her mother, Carrie Berman, is vice president on the board of directors at the Coral Springs Museum of Art.
The teen describes a childhood chock full of artist receptions, paint-stained fingers from museum events, and participating in theater productions at the performing arts center — a stone’s throw from where her mother volunteers so much of her time.
Sophia said she and her younger sister, Jane, are happy their mother often brings work home when the art museum closes at night. They have helped her shop for table centerpieces, decorate for events – even fluff pillows for overnight guests exhibiting their artwork while in town.
Her family has twice hosted eight Buddhist monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery at their home in Parkland when the museum welcomes them back from India each year to create a giant, sand mandala.
“I have been so inspired by things like that, but most of all, the Healing through Art programs created after the Parkland shooting,” said Sophia.
She describes these weekly programs, designed for students, teachers, and veterans, as a continuation of what the museum has been doing since February 2018, when the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas shook Parkland and surrounding communities to their core.
As families and friends grieved the loss of 17 loved ones and 17 more who suffered injuries, the museum made it known they were a place of understanding, compassion, and refuge for anyone struggling with the events of Valentine’s Day, 2018.
Executive Director at the museum, Julia Andrews referred to Sophia Berman as an outstanding leader.
“Sophia helped serve our community at the darkest time of need. Her compassion for her friends and their families and her inherent generous nature contributed greatly to the genesis of our healing programs.”
In addition to healing art classes, COTA helps fund Artfull Saturdays, where special projects are tackled, and the Kaleidoscope program, which helps autistic kids express themselves through art.
COTA’s other sponsorships include a grant to Girl Noticed, a Fort Lauderdale-based community mural project highlighting the value and significance of every girl.
In the years 2018 and 2019, the Children of the Arts Foundation raised roughly $15,000 split between Sophia’s causes.
The Parkland teen has succeeded in raising money for COTA by collecting donations online. Sometimes an individual contribution is made as payment for an artistic service Sophia rendered; such as designing T-shirts for an artist on tour, or filming and editing videos for media clients.
The teen credits a heart-to-heart with her grandfather for inspiring COTA – that and discovering the acting bug she once had was fleeting. The shy, soft-spoken 17-year-old decided her real passion was for the tech side of theater: helping to produce the show, recruit talent, and act as a stage manager.
“I was the stage manager for the production of Mary Poppins. Oh my god, so much work, but so incredibly rewarding,” said Sophia, who attends the private school in Coconut Creek.
Sophia admitted she prefers to keep quiet about her philanthropy, and that her classmates at NBPS are unaware of just how deep her obsession with theater runs. They don’t know she founded COTA or that, in addition to the many art programs it helps sponsor, COTA sent two sisters in need to a Coral Springs theater camp this summer.
“Getting a letter from their mother was the first time I realized, ‘hey, I’m actually doing some real good here,” recalled Sophia.
She said the letter had been forwarded to her by Cynthia O’Brien, artistic director at Next Stop Broadway – the theater program the sisters were able to participate in.
O’Brien believed Sophia should know just how much it meant to the mother, both a veteran and single parent, to expose her daughters to such a confidence-building camp.
The girls appeared in NSB’s production of Matilda – an experience their mother said she could not have afforded without Sophia’s help.
“I actually cried when I read that letter,” said Sophia, adding she hopes to continue running the nonprofit even on the chance she is accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
She explained that with the help of her father, Marc, continuing to promote The Children of the Arts Foundation, shouldn’t be hard.
Sophia is actively encouraging donations on the COTA website that will go toward supporting and nurturing local youths, like the sisters who just starred in Matilda.
Just be aware – if someone does manage to snag a scholarship and subsequent role in a Next Stop Broadway production – they are going to bump into Sophia as they exit the stage.
If you would like to learn more about COTA and its sponsorship of arts for healing, community arts, and specific international and national art projects, visit their website.
- Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.