The Happiness Club
, founded in 1992, is an organization committed to the development and optimistic transformation of youth - diverse in age, race, and socioeconomic background - through performing arts education. The Happiness Club's mission is to inspire and enable young people to embrace positive values, to openly express themselves with conviction and courage, to actively participate in developing individual skills and talents, and to confidently pursue productive futures as responsible, contributing members of society.
In 1992, founder Gigi Faraci Harris wanted to bring together children of all ages and backgrounds to create a safe environment for them to evaluate issues that were pertinent to their own lives. She recognized that the problems facing these kids were complex: gang violence, racism, drug abuse, and low self-esteem. By allowing children to address these issues at an early age, by validating their positive solutions to these problems, and utilizing her skills as an arts educator, Gigi believed she could help children from the most at risk neighborhoods of Chicago’s inner city and children from the most affluent suburbs. Although they had widely varying life experiences. the had one thing in common: a passion for the arts. By utilizing music, dance, drama, and writing, the children addressed these issues through the arts. The Happiness Club began creating leaders in a safe and risk-free community, helping them discover the beauty of their diversity. The kids began performing throughout Chicago and children – of all ages – were listening to their positive messages which were presented through original hip hop and pop music and dance.
In just over ten years, The Happiness Club had expanded its outreach from 12 kids to thousands of young people in the Chicago area through its unique programs.
The Happiness Club is rooted in the concept that nothing is as powerful as the message that comes from the heart of a child. Children make choices in their lives by listening to their peers. If the only options presented to them by their classmates and friends are negative, they will succumb to peer pressure. The Happiness Club provides another alternative. It reaches kids with positive messages through exciting, hip, songs and dances. Young people listen because they see kids who are similar to themselves make positive choices. They follow these positive examples and realize that it is okay to be good. By celebrating the importance of positive self-esteem, promoting the value of education, and speaking out against the evils of prejudice, drugs and violence, The Happiness Club encourages kids to take a more positive path for their future.
Artistic Director and choreogpapher Tanji Harper leads the organization, which has expanded its outreach to thousands of young people in the Chicagoland area and now, all over the world. In 2002, the group completed its first international tour to Paris, France as guests of Mayor Jacques Bravo of the 9th District. They were received by the people of France with open arms and performed to standing room only audiences. In the Chicago area, the Happiness Club has performed at Lollapalooza, Taste of Chicago, Dance Chicago, Navy Pier, the Wells Street Art Fair, and the B-96 Summer Bash. The group also regularly performs in schools, community centers and boasts a popular performing arts summer camp. In 2007, The Happiness Club collaborated with Rhymefest, Naledge, B.J. The Chicago Kid, and Richkiddz in creating and recording three new songs for its annual benefit at the Park West in Chicago.
The performance group now consists of 50 young people, who volunteer approximately 400 hours each year, writing, choreographing, and performing their original works; as mentors in Chicago and suburban schools; and moderating “Talkin’ it Out” sessions at schools and community events.
Whether they are performing at President Obama's Annual Easter Egg Roll, for former President and First Lady Clinton or former Secretary of State Colin Powell, opening up for Mariah Carey, at Navy Pier, Chicago Botanic Gardens, or at numerous inner city and suburban schools, The Happiness Club always inspires its audiences with its three-time Emmy award winning show, Kids Make Values Cool. For many of the club members, participating in the outreach performance group has been a life-changing experience, keeping them off of the streets and introducing them to music and dance training they would never have received. One member tells the Chicago Tribune, “If I hadn’t joined The Happiness Club, I’d still be out on the streets in a gang, doin’ nothing, without a job, not staying in school.” Each year, approximately 10,000 people see The Happiness Club perform each year at various venues and the organization has received hundreds of letters from young people whose experience working with or seeing The Happiness Club Youth Outreach Performance Group changed their lives. “I had no direction in my life and thought I had no purpose,” writes one audience member. “Now, I realize that I have a voice. And I have to use it loudly.”
In 1998, The Happiness Club launched The “Ethics for Kids” arts-in-education program which was a collaboration between The Happiness Club staff and educators. This innovative program uses the music, writing, and dances of The Happiness Club to effectively teach character education through the arts and provide teachers with a comprehensive curriculum that complements their lesson plans. Representatives of the Happiness Club were trained as mentors and periodically visited participating schools to run in-class workshops, and performances were offered as culminating events of the program. Schools started their own Satellite Clubs, modeled after the original group, to help children develop their own ethical codes of behavior through a variety of well organized, motivating, high interest experiences. Through a partnership with Chicago Public Schools and funding from private foundations, in 2002, there were 22 Chicago Public Schools who participated in the full program, 3 satellite clubs, and numerous in-school performances. Over 10,000 students learned character education through the arts with The Happiness Club mentors and curriculum materials.
In 2012, The Happiness Club is 50 kids strong, and calls Wright College their home base, holding weekly practices at its beautiful facilities on the North West Side of Chicago. They are still performing al every big event in Chicago, as well as at schools throughout the city and suburbs. Starting with the high school graduating class of 2008, every Happiness Club member has gone onto College, and most have remained active members of The Happiness Club, participating in shows as their college schedules allow.