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Fifteen Years and Moving Forward

Off The Cuff with Above the Clouds’ Linda Wade

Sep. 6, 2016
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Linda Wade developed major heart problems in her teens. Doctors said she wouldn’t see 30. She lived with her parents, drew social security and painted. Now 57 and president of Above the Clouds, a program providing arts education free to children ages 5-17 that “would not otherwise have the means or opportunity” for such classes, she is doing so well that her heart monitor was removed five months ago. Above the Clouds celebrates its 15th anniversary Saturday, Sept. 17 with a celebration called “Moving Forward.” 

How was Above the Clouds born?

One of my mom’s rules was, if you lived in her house you went to church. On weekends my sister and brother and I would go out, but I’d get so sick they’d have to take me home. It was Sunday morning after the first night I was able to stay out late. My mom said I don’t care what time you got home, you’re going to church. I hated going to church, oh my goodness, I hated the pastor; every time he’d speak I’d roll my eyes. So I was sleeping during the service and I heard a voice say, “Linda, this is your last chance.” I thought it was my sister and I told her to leave me alone. I tried to sleep and I heard it again. I opened my eyes. They were having an altar call; it was at the Parklawn Assembly of God on Sherman. I saw this cute boy down in front and I thought, well, if this is not God calling me, I’ll give that boy my phone number. But I didn’t even think about him when I got to the altar. A lady came up to me and said, “Would you like to receive Jesus in your life?” And I said yes and I was crying.

A couple weeks later, the pastor invited me to work in the church office. The doctors did a battery of tests and said, well, you can try it part time. After six months, they let me take the job. I joined Dance Eternal, a Christian dance group. We’d go to women’s prisons, mainly in Texas. We’d go to Death Row and perform and the ladies would tell us their lives. On one plane ride home, I was going, “OK, Lord, you want me to do this arts program.” We were over the clouds and that’s when He gave me the name. I landed and called Barb Melsheimer, our co-founder. I said I believe this is what God wants me to do and I need your help.

What is the work?

We provide free ballet, theater, modern dance, hip-hop, songwriting, singing, music and other classes to inner city children. Ballet is our biggest class. We have eight levels from beginning to point work. We have 702 students altogether, 90% are African American. We use sites that the children can get to like Journey House, Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and the Urban Ecology Center. We have closed classes at Joy House, a rescue mission for women and children. We keep clothes and socks and food on hand, if there’s a need. We have the best teachers, I think, that we can provide. They have to have degrees in and/or be working in the field they teach. They have to have a heart for the inner city.

How is it Christian based?

We have prayer before and after class. You don’t have to be of any certain faith and kids don’t have to do it if they aren’t comfortable. We have short Christian life lessons where we talk about things like bullying or relationships and the children can share their thoughts in a safe environment.

And “Moving Forward”?

It’s from 12-2 p.m. at the Grace Center at 250 E. Juneau Ave. Registration is at 11:30 a.m. It’s a luncheon so tickets are $50 or $400 for a table of eight. Denise Burton is our guest singer and Cassandra McShepard from Channel 6’s “Real Milwaukee” is our guest speaker. Our little and older ballet students and theatre students will perform. God has blessed us because we’re an arts education program. We’ve served over 6,300 students. We have 19 sites on our waiting list but we can’t expand unless we’re sure we have funding. We have donations from major foundations in the area. Our weakness is that we don’t have a lot of corporate and individual donors.

For information, contact 414-344-3019 or email abovethecloudsmilw@gmail.com.

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