Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholar, Mackensie Eckenfels '22 has a passion for performing. An avid dancer and active member of Reinhardt’s theatre program, the Musical Theatre major has a dream to share her love of dance and music with those who have the most difficult time accessing the arts.
“Among my greatest hopes is to create an arts studio for handicapped and underprivileged children,” says Eckenfels.
Eckenfels says the idea came from her personal experience. “As a kid, I danced a lot - three to five days a week.” When the economy took a downturn, “my family had to move, and I had to leave my extracurricular activities. We just couldn’t afford them.”
Eckenfels desperately missed dancing. Her mom tried to return her to classes but “I didn’t have the proper dance attire or the appropriate shoes.” Her mom did everything to sustain her activities, but the financial resources were not available. “So that’s where this idea came from - recognizing that so many kids go without, which prevents them from developing the gifts they’ve been given to fulfill their dreams.”
“I want to expose the arts to marginalized communities, for the children who dream of being the next Sutton Foster, Misty Copeland or James Whiteside,” Eckenfels shares. Her plans are notable - to create scholarships, fundraising venues and opportunities for parents to work in exchange for their child’s classes.
In addition to helping those in financial need reach their dancing dreams, Eckenfels wants to extend the arts – dance, music and theatre - to the handicapped, particularly those with neurodevelopmental disorders. “I grew up volunteering with Special Olympics. One year I sang on stage with the kids. They loved it so much that I began to wonder if music had any impact on educational development, particularly for the disabled or handicapped. Through research, I learned that it significantly impacts communication. If they’re nonverbal, they have difficulty expressing their feelings. Music gives them an outlet to release their emotional and physical struggles, making it easier for them to focus in school. They also develop communication skills which enhance the development of their motor skills.”
Through her research, Eckenfels also recognized the importance of high-quality arts education in communities. “Students who are provided with arts education are less likely to drop out of school, and it plays a big role in crime prevention. Creative outlets enable safe environments for children to discover their individuality, identity and independence, and to develop a sense of discipline.”
With big dreams in mind, Eckenfels plans to pursue an acting career after spring graduation. “I would really like grow as a performer, and to involve myself personally in marginalized communities before I can say ‘This is what the community needs.’”
When Eckenfels reflects on her time at Reinhardt, she recalls a place of great opportunity. “When I came to Reinhardt, I didn’t think I was good enough or worthy of performing. I had very low confidence in my abilities as a performer.” Eckenfels quickly found her place. “I got my first lead in the ‘Secret Garden’ my freshman year – that show will always hold a special place in my heart. I had the opportunity to be in so many shows and activities, from marketing and social media to creating spirit wear for the department – so many aspects of the theatre beyond acting than have broadened my knowledge and skills beyond my imagination!”
No wonder a look into her future is a thrill for Brian Osborne, assistant professor of music. “It has been a real joy working with Mackensie for all these years,” said Osborne. “From the time she was a participant in the Reinhardt Musical Theatre Intensive before she was a student at RU, I knew she was destined for greatness. I'm so proud that she became an inspiring chaperone and teacher at the intensive! She has become a true triple threat - singer, actor, dancer, a powerhouse choreographer and a real asset to our program. She will be missed!”
“As I stepped down away from my cheer team and scholarship to free my schedule, the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship appeared – and thank goodness! It was a crazy blessing nobody knew I needed, but God put it in my lap. This is amazing!” As a Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholar, with a strong sense of gratitude and a passion for giving, this “triple threat’s” Eckenfels Studio may be closer than we think!