The concept of mentoring has been taking up quite a bit of space in my daydreaming lately, reflecting on how it connects us by simply “being there” for each other. The catalyst: the performance on Sunday up at Willow Creek Church with special needs kids in a program called The Penguin Project. I learned that over the last few years, teams of exceptionally experienced educators produce, direct and choreograph the licensed “Jr.” versions of Broadway shows there. This season’s offering was Mary Poppins, Jr. and was acted, sung, and danced by children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, visual, hearing, and developmental impairments and other neurological disorders.
Within the opening first few minutes I found myself welling up with pride (and tears) over their astonishingly joyous, nuanced and both technically and musically accomplished work!
Each young artist was accompanied by a “peer mentor,” a child of or around the same age without special needs. The peer mentors are an entire staff of expertly trained kids who volunteer to work side by side with those with special needs. Over four months of rehearsals, they “have their backs” as the gifted child actors perform their scenes, songs and dances with even some from their wheelchairs, no problem! Seeing this shared dynamic was simply astounding and a revelation in how they brought out the best in each other. The young mentors get as much out of it as their “mentees.” Both groups of kids learn first-hand, by doing, how able they are to achieve and connect to each other. Disabilities disappear! The young artists find they can do! (And boy, do they ever! Brilliantly!)
And the young mentors learn understanding, appreciation and empathy for those different from themselves. Totally inspired!
So, yesterday, I’m in the office of Director of Education and Community Engagement, Shannon Cameron, with my playbill from the show to share with her. And of course! Shannon already knows all about The Penguin Project and has President and CEO Tim Rater on board to “green light” the program for Paramount’s School of the Arts! I leave Shannon’s office walking on air! But simultaneously, I’m so grounded in gratitude to know Shannon and Tim, mentors themselves with such great hearts and minds. We really have something special here at Paramount. And now just in the course of a few days I’ve come to a higher understanding of mentoring, seeing what it can really mean and do. Those very special children on a Sunday afternoon gave us so much more than they ever imagined. They shined a light on everyone who attended their show to think of our mentors and what it means to serve. Aren’t we all, in some way, mentors ourselves?
Love & thanks,