The Yarmouth County region of Nova Scotia is mostly rural and most families live off minimum wage jobs. As a respiratory therapist, Deanna had the chance to see what happens when an area's youth are bored and lack positive activities. “The hospital is small, so I worked all over, including the emergency room,” she notes. Over and over, she saw local teens suffering drug overdoses, having babies or injured in drunken-driving car wrecks. When one 16-year-old died at the hospital after such an accident, Deanna realized she recognized him – and his grief-stricken father. The way the father searched Deanna's face for a glimmer of hope for his son's recovery was the most painful thing she'd ever seen. To offer hope to other families, Deanna decided to offer hip-hop dancing lessons as an activity that would appeal to teens – and then ask them to pledge not to drink or use drugs if they wanted to continue. Deanna now puts in 70 hours a week to run Kidzact and has retired from her respiratory therapy career to devote herself full-time to volunteering.
Deanna founded Kidzact, short for “Kids Take Action,” where, for the past 13 years, she’s held fast to the concept. Deanna started with hip-hop dance lessons for teens, and expanded her classes to younger students, finding that “those who enter as preschoolers tend to stay”. As students' progress, they're taught to be mentors and assistant instructors to younger students. Today, kids can start as young as 3, and can opt for ballet and gymnastics, in addition to hip-hop. Kidzact has opened the world of dance to hundreds of teens in southwestern Nova Scotia. Some have won awards in competitions and even gone on to dance schools. An unexpected impact of the Kidzact studio has been the way it brings kids of different backgrounds together. “When you have a doctor's child and a child from a low-income family in the same room, they don't treat each other differently,” Deanna has observed.