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The Penguin Project

Caroline King
MSM Class of 2015

(2/1) For a child, art can be life changing. A good project in art class hung on the fridge can make them smile for hours and bolster their confidence like nothing else. Anyone who went through the middle school experience of putting on school plays or singing in choirs can tell you the excitement and time put in to practicing their role for the performance. Art has a way of stimulating the individual in such a positive way. It builds confidence and social skills, and at the end of the day, it is just plain fun—and not just for children. Adults can benefit in many of the same ways when it comes to art. Whether as a social activity, a fun way to work out your stress, or just an enjoyable pastime, from music to painting to theater, art makes lives better.

Getting involved in art, weather you’re a parent or a child, is extremely beneficial, and it doesn’t have to break the bank either. We’re blessed enough to live in a community that has a tight focus on the arts and artists. One of these many amazing resources is the Gettysburg Community Theater. The Gettysburg Community Theater helps present children and adults alike with the opportunity to act on stage and get involved in their community. In fact, their very mission statement is, "Our mission is to inspire creativity and confidence, provide cultural enrichment, and instill a love of the theatre arts in young and the young at heart through quality education, training and performing experiences in musical theatre."

It’s a worthy goal, any way you look at it. They describe themselves as "utilizing the art of musical theatre so that children and adults alike can ‘find their stage door...and open it!’" Performing on stage can build confidence like very little else can; it can inspire the individual and the community, not to mention the friendships made through practicing and working together towards a common goal! As if this noble pursuit wasn’t enough, the Gettysburg Community Theater also has specialized performances focusing on different members of the community.

This year, the Gettysburg Community Theater will partner up with Hanover Public Schools for "The Penguin Project." The Penguin Project is an amazing program, offering youths and students with special needs and disabilities including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and other neurological disorders a chance to perform in theater alongside their "peer mentors," who are children the same age without disabilities, and adults who have volunteered to work with them side-by-side and guide them through four months of rehearsals and the final production. With each production, The Penguin Project Foundation comes closer to realizing their foundation’s dream of "creating a network of Penguin Projects that will bring the magic of this experience to communities from coast to coast."

Now, our community gets to be a part of this wonderful program. Originally created to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the performing arts, the Penguin Project also has extremely positive results and significant therapeutic value, enhancing socialization, communication, and self-esteem. One of the main things the foundation wants to show is that individuals with disabilities can participate fully in community activities with the same enthusiasm, dedication, and success as others if given the chance and support.

The Penguin Project has so many beneficial impacts. The young artists with special needs who might not have been given these sorts of opportunities before will find themselves in a situation where they are given the chance to succeed the way that works for them, while in a safe and comforting environment. They don’t need to be worried about their vulnerabilities; they can instead focus on exploring their creativity and talents in a supportive place where they are encouraged to emerge, develop and bloom. Not to mention, they can make lasting friendships and improve their communication skills, socializations, and self-confidence. The program is extremely beneficial for the peer mentors as well, giving them opportunities to be a teacher and a friend. Mentors learn how to support others and encourage them, all the while coming to understand how our differences can work together to make something beautiful. And of course, this program has a special impact on the parents.

For many parents, they’ve been able to watch their children in plays and preforming in the arts often, but for some parents involved with the Penguin Project, this will be the very first time they experience the joy of watching their child on stage, preforming and succeeding in a social setting. By creating opportunities and availability to performing arts, this program establishes that the special challenges of a disability don’t need to handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences. The Penguin Project is a completely inclusive and amazing opportunity, supporting everyone involved in it. The foundation explains, "Our penguins may not be able to fly, but that does not prevent their spirits from soaring."

And now, the Gettysburg Community Theater is offering that support by extending its hand to the community to offer that same support. Children and parents are encouraged to participate in this year’s project, Disney’s "High School Musical!" If this project is something you personally feel like you want to be directly involved with, there will be informational meetings at the Gettysburg Community Theater on January 26th and 27th at 7pm for those ages 8-21 and anyone who would like to volunteer for this worthy project.

Theatre can change lives. This project can do the same, and in big ways. Many of the peer mentors have gone on to explore careers in special education and rehabilitation therapy. This project can also help in ways that may seem small, but are truly monumental, like a single child overcoming their stage fright. The project was created to form friendships, offer support, and create opportunities, and now our community has a chance to take an active role in something incredible and worthwhile, all thanks to the Penguin Project and the Gettysburg Community Theater.

If you have the time and the dedication to get involved in a program like this, I cannot encourage you enough to volunteer. The Gettysburg Community Theater needs willing participants to make this event a success and every little bit of help is, well, helpful! Please consider going to one of their information sessions. This is the kind of experience that can touch lives, and it is not something you get to be a part of every day. Even if you can’t volunteer, there are other ways to help. You can donate to the cause, or simply spread the word to friends and family who might be able to have a hands-on role. We live in a strong, art-loving community, and now we have the chance to come together and make a difference. Information on when the performance will be has not been released yet, but will be on the Gettysburg Community Theater website. Please check back for ticket availability, and mark your calendars so you can be a part of this incredible experience!

For more information about the Penguin Project, visit

For more information about the Gettysburg Community Theater, visit

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