WATERLOO — A program started to encourage kids to express themselves through community art projects is getting a major boost from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association.

The Youth Art Team is one of 15 programs and organizations sharing some $377,434 in grants awarded Monday by the nonprofit agency that distributes revenue from the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.

Heidi Fuchtman, executive director of the Youth Art Team, said the grant is a major boost for an organization now growing beyond its humble beginnings.

“People don’t realize that the Youth Art Team has been around for 10 years now,” she said. “It was started and led by volunteers with no budget 10 years ago, and those young artists are now growing into leaders.”

The Bridge to 10 program is an effort to create a healthy and sustainable Youth Art Team program for the next 10 years, including funding to hire staff.

“It’s growing super fast,” Fuchtman said. “Everything grew beyond what our volunteers could sustain.”

The Youth Art Team has undertaken a number of public art projects since it began, including “Our Freedom Story,” a 3,000-square-foot mural on the downtown Cedar River riverwall near the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

Unveiled last June, the mural was designed by third-graders to tell the story of the civil rights movement in Waterloo after interviewing community members involved in the movement.

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