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Gina Arreaga

The last few bass notes boom from the loudspeaker as the dancers hit their final pose. Then the moment of stillness erupts into high-fives: They’ve finally nailed the choreography. In the wings, mom of two Gina Arreaga quietly celebrates a successful practice. As mentor and leader of the teen group TruCrew, Gina has found a way to make a mark in the community at the same time she channels her 13-year-old son Brandon’s passion for music and dancing. From the beginning, Gina encouraged Brandon to look beyond his first YouTube video to a greater purpose. As mother and son began to search for other dancers to round out the hip-hop troupe, they discovered that kids in the arts needed help. “When you’re playing football there are plenty of people to high-five you, but singing and dancing doesn’t have that natural support system,” Gina says.

The momentum from the release of that first video in 2012 propelled the newly formed group of eight performers to look for ways they could positively affect others through their gifts, but Gina also saw a change in the dancers themselves. “Both of my kids and many of the dancers we met had periods where they only danced in their room so others couldn’t see them,” she says. “I wanted them to have a place where they could do what they loved with confidence.” That mission shaped the group, which adopted the “Be Tru, Be You” mantra. “The ultimate goal of TruCrew is to encourage kids to ‘be true, be you’ in whatever way – whether that’s math, or sports, or music,” Gina says.

Once that goal was defined, TruCrew staged free performances for schools and camps so they could broach tough topics such as drug use, bullying and peer pressure. Along with dancing, the teen members share their personal stories. “Kids really seem to respond to listening to other kids talk about their problems,” Gina says. The response to the group has been overwhelming, starting with simple assemblies in school lunchrooms and growing to a nomination and red-carpet event in L.A. for the Teen Video Awards. When talking about TruCrew’s success, Gina humbly removes herself from the equation. “I didn’t make phone calls or send out flyers, because I didn’t want it to be me chasing it or driving it,” she says. “We just wanted to see where we could have an impact and embrace it.”

The students and dancers aren’t the only ones who’ve been impacted by TruCrew; Gina has also rediscovered her purpose. As a former kindergarten teacher and musician, she had plans to open a fine arts school, but the demands of motherhood pushed that dream to the back burner. “I slowly realized that what I wanted to do and what I needed to do didn’t go hand in hand,” she says. She willingly put her career on hold but always hoped to get back to teaching. “Now, in God’s timing, I’m helping with this program and get to be with my kids while using my gifts.”

The TruCrew experience has also brought meaning to some of her past trials, including a difficult passage into motherhood. At the age of 20, Gina was a first-time mom to a very sick premature baby. Halie, now a healthy sophomore, was born 10 weeks early, and while Gina was still adjusting to caring for a fragile infant, she became pregnant with her son. The second pregnancy was difficult and dangerous for Gina physically and mentally. “My body was rejecting my son,” Gina says, “and my husband and I chose to switch doctors because they wanted me to consider terminating the pregnancy with my health at such a high risk.” Gina knew she couldn’t do that; “God had to be in charge,” she says. Those trials became a game-changer. They “took a scared, immature 20-year-old and helped me to see that my children and I are here for a purpose,” Gina says.

For now, that purpose involves finding ways to serve the community through performance and dance. “We started with the idea that we could just make an impact in Denton County, but it has spread so much further,” Gina says. “It makes us want to be more responsible with the opportunity.”

Published October 2013