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Blumenthal Performing Arts
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Winter 2023
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Difference Maker
Education Support
LEAPing into Service with Susanna Parker and Data Driven Safety
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Photo by Daniel Coston
Students participate in L.E.A.P. Day 2022.
by Kitty Janvrin
When Susanna Parker took her seat in Knight Theater on March 15, 2022, the energy was electric. All around her, the audience waited for the performance to begin. The lights came up to welcome the performers: 126 fourth and fifth graders, grouped by classroom, all of them making their acting debut.
“You would never know they had never been onstage before,” recalls Parker. “Nobody was shy, nobody was reserved. It was as if they had been doing this their entire lives.”
This special debut performance was the culmination of L.E.A.P. – the Literacy Engagement through Arts Program – a recent initiative from Blumenthal Performing Arts’ partnership with Data Driven Safety and Pinnacle Financial Partners. L.E.A.P. uses theatrical works as a way to engage upper elementary schoolers with literacy and acquaint them with the magic of the performing arts. The program launched in 2021 but encountered some unanticipated changes due to COVID-19. The originally planned final performance was canceled, and a socially distanced pizza party was held in its place. But in 2022, with enhanced safety, the students were finally able to bring their learnings to one of Charlotte’s most notable performance spaces.
Parker, who serves as associate general counsel at Data Driven Safety, was a main catalyst for the creation of L.E.A.P. A few years ago, Data Driven Safety was looking to philanthropically support Blumenthal Performing Arts in a new way, one that would provide unique opportunities for a sector of Charlotteans while showcasing Data Driven Safety’s commitment to education and the community.
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Susanna Parker
“My boss at the time, Jason Murphy, who was the president and founder of Data Driven Safety, challenged me to come up with something that would not exist but for our donation. What he wanted us to avoid was just giving to a general fund, which I thought was a very interesting and intriguing idea,” Parker says.
She set to work crafting a program, something specific, something driven by the arts and the needs of the community. As a Blumenthal board member and development committee member, she was well-acquainted with Blumenthal’s mission. In 2021, Parker and Data Driven Safety partnered with Blumenthal’s education team to launch L.E.A.P. at Tuckaseegee Elementary, a school Data Driven Safety has partnered with and supported for several years. Despite not being able to produce the final performance in its inaugural year, the program was a successful way to engage students and their teachers in a new way, and last year, the program extended to include Bruns Avenue Elementary School.
Parker was thrilled to be able to watch the final performance this year. She considers herself a lifelong lover of the arts, a passion nurtured by her father, who was an author and playwright as well as an expert bedtime storyteller. Now with children of her own, Parker and her husband have introduced them to stories told onstage.
Susanna Parker poses with her husband, Rob, and their children.
After taking her daughter to Wicked and Frozen in Charlotte, Parker acknowledges that “to see it through their eyes is a really special thing.” The family moved from the D.C. area in 2014 in search of a slower pace of life and quite frankly, less traffic. For Parker, two of Charlotte’s strongest draws were the sense of community and the wide range of arts offerings at Blumenthal.
“(In D.C.) I could easily get to Kennedy Center, Warner Theatre, all of those. But to have it all under one roof – you don’t just get the amazing Broadway shows, you also get the one-offs, like Charlotte Squawks,” Parker says. “Shows like that are phenomenal. The depth of talent that Blumenthal both has in-house and attracts, given the size, is really incredible.”
I never considered not giving back. You make time for what’s important to you.
— Susanna Parker, associate general counsel at Data Driven Safety
Parker has grown deep roots throughout the greater Charlotte area, as well, serving on a number of boards and participating philanthropically through Data Driven Safety and individually with nonprofits. She counts her community service among the most rewarding work she does, and says Data Driven Safety is “the most special workplace that I will ever have the privilege of working at” because of the company’s long-term devotion to supporting community projects and worthy causes.
“I never considered not giving back. You make time for what’s important to you,” she says. “(Data Driven Safety) challenges (you) to give at whatever level you can. I think challenging each other to do more, to give as much as you can regardless of the amount, is very important.”
Now that L.E.A.P. is moving toward its third year, Parker is eager to see how the program grows. She’s equally as eager to encourage others to venture into the community to see where there’s a need to be filled.
“I think there’s a great misunderstanding in the community that unless you’re a big company that your money doesn’t have the same impact, and that is just completely untrue. And it doesn’t have to be financial, of course; it can be your time,” she says. “I’ve never acted a day in my life, but that didn’t stop me from going to theater and ultimately serving on theater boards. Just don’t be afraid to try new things.”
For Parker, the next new thing she might try is saying no to some opportunities that come her way. She says this with a laugh, likely knowing one might be skeptical of this response given her indelible passion for service and her track-record for community engagement. The positive impact of Parker’s work with Data Driven Safety and Blumenthal, however, is one undeniable fact.