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Theatre Alumna Brings the Arts Closer to Home for a Small New Jersey City

Headshot of Kelsey Snively

For Kelsey Snively ’20, being a Theatre major was about much more than just acting.

John and Beverly Haaf approached Kelsey Snively ’20 with their big dream the year she graduated from York College of Pennsylvania. The longtime residents of Beverly, New Jersey, who have known Snively since she was a child, wanted to bring the arts to their corner of the country, and they wanted Snively to run the operation.

In January 2021, they launched the Haaf Family Arts Foundation Inc., with Snively as the Executive Director.

“We were starting brand new,” Snively says. “There was no theatre here. There were no arts here. We looked at the spot and said, ‘We’re going to do this here.’ ”

Many river cities in New Jersey face the same issue that Beverly does, Snively says. They once were hubs of industry along main transportation routes, but with their industry gone, they often lack cultural outlets. The opportunity to breathe new life into the city along the Delaware River intrigued her.

Broad Skillset Paves the Way

Snively brought with her a well-rounded education and experience that went deeper than the fine arts. As a Theatre major at York College, she was exposed not only to acting and choreography, but lighting, carpentry, design, playwriting, and a host of other skills.

“I know how important it is to be varied in your education and to be open to learning new things consistently,” she says. “Professor Suzanne Delle has always done a fantastic job of pushing students out of their comfort zone into new areas of theatre.”

Using the skills she learned at York College, Snively created a weekly workshop at the Haaf Family Foundation called “The Arts of Living.” The workshop focuses on using art in everyday activities such as auto maintenance, seed germination, basic home projects, and winemaking.

She also brought in more traditional arts programming. The Foundation’s first session was with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Anthony Giacchino. Snively also created an array of youth-focused programs, including dance and acting classes and toy-building workshops.

“Working with kids has been so rewarding,” she says. “They’re so into what I’m doing and very enthusiastic.”

A Challenging Beginning

One of Snively’s biggest struggles has been trying to launch programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. When many theatres and arts programs were shutting down, she was just getting started.

“Because we started when we did, we had a lot of catching up to do with changes since COVID,” she says. “I would find an answer, then find out it had changed.”

Despite the hurdles, she pushed ahead and is excited for what the future holds. This year, she plans to oversee the Foundation’s first community theatre project, a one-hour adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet using a radio script from 1938. In early 2022, the Foundation received a $10,000 grant to host the very first Beverly Blues Festival, so planning is underway for that event.

For Snively, the arts aren’t just her work. They’re her life. When she’s not planning, teaching, and overseeing the Haaf Family Foundation, she can be found performing for the Bordentown Historical Society. Each year, the Society researches real-life murders and other crimes that took place in the area, then acts out the stories in a series titled Harrowing History.

She also puts her carpentry training to use making toys as gifts for friends and family.

“Don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities,” Snively says. That’s a motto that has allowed the York College alumna to bring new life to a New Jersey community.