The Penguin Project®, founded by Dr. Andrew Morgan in 2003 in Peoria, Illinois, is a national non-profit organization with the vision of creating unrestricted access for children with special needs to the performing arts. This is accomplished with the assistance of multiple sites across the U.S. that produce a modified version of a well-known Broadway musical.
What makes these productions unique is young artists with special needs fill the acting roles. They are joined on stage by their “Peer Mentors,” a group of children the same age without disabilities, who have volunteered to work with them side-by-side and guide them through four months of rehearsals and the final production. The Penguin Project® demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability need not handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences.
The origin of the name “Penguin Project” comes from the unique characteristics of penguins. They are extremely playful and curious, and work well together. More importantly, they have a “disability” that distinguishes them from other birds – they can’t fly. Instead, penguins waddle and toboggan on their bellies over the snow, and are excellent swimmers in the water. So like our young artists, they have adapted to the challenges of their environment and have not allowed their unique difference to interfere with their lives.
“Our penguins may not be able to fly, but that does not prevent their spirits from soaring.”