Goals of the Penguin Project® include:
1) Provide an opportunity for children with special needs to develop creative skills related to the theater arts
2) Provide an opportunity for children with special needs to participate in a community theater experience
3) Facilitate interaction between children with special needs and their age-level peers through joint participation in a community theater experience
4) Facilitate an appreciation of the challenges faced by children with special needs and their families
5) Identify the impact of a community theater experience on the communication skills, socialization, and self-confidence/self-esteem of children with special needs
6) Facilitate interaction among medical, developmental, educational, and theater professionals through participation in a common community project
7) Provide a forum for support and interaction for families of children with special needs
The Penguin Project® has had a significant impact on young artists with special needs and on everyone else who is involved with the program. It has become a special place, a “comfort zone,” where vulnerable children are encouraged to explore their creativity and are supported in everything they do. Hidden, untapped talents emerge and bloom. The program has provided many of the artists with an opportunity to make friends for the first time as they have developed relationships that extend beyond the stage. The end result is a tremendous improvement in communication skills, socialization, self-confidence, and assertiveness for the artists.
Mentors have an opportunity to help others by being a teacher and a friend. They learn to support their partners and to encourage them to be as independent as possible. Through the process, they also learn that their peers with special challenges are “just plain kids,” no different from themselves. Several mentors have gone on to explore careers in special education and rehabilitation therapy.
For the first time, many parents experience the joy of sitting in an audience and watching their children perform and succeed in ways they never thought possible. They have an opportunity to “network” with other parents, not to lobby for rights and services, but to share something encouraging and uplifting. The program has created a sense of “family,” linking all of the participants to each other.