Meet the Penguins

Mason BeckerMason Becker with mentor Stephanie Leverton on right Mason is 13 and is in the 7th grade at Central Junior High School. He has been in four Penguin Project productions. He was Jetsam in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr” and Eugene in “Grease-School Edition.” He thanks his mentor for her years of dedication, and Dr. Andy and Kathy for the opportunity to allow his light to shine. Mason was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 3. He loves to sing and dance with the new friends he’s met through this special program. Mason is an avid video gamer and a collector of reptiles and tropical fish. He has a loving and caring spirit that he’s willing to share with all who meets him.
Cris BennettCris Bennett Cris is a Limestone Community High School graduate. He has been in 9 Penguin Project Productions. His roles have included Cogsworth in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr”, Troy Bolton in “Disney’s High School Musical 2”, and Kenicke in “Grease-School Edition.” Cris is Intellectually Disabled, but that doesn’t stop him from doing what he wants. He loves movies, music, playing his Xbox and hanging out with his friends. Cris has made many friends and has a lot of fun while participating in the Penguin Project and at Penguin camp. Cris and his family thank Dr. Andy, Ms. Kathy and Ms. Kim for giving him the confidence he needs to be a shining star.
Emily BeinemanEmily Bieneman with mentor Francis Holmes on right Emily is 15 years old and a freshman at Limestone Community High School. She in the Key Club and is also a stat girl for the high school wrestling team. She enjoys puzzles, crafts, fishing, and sewing. Emily loves making homemade cards and gifts for her family and friends. Emily has been in 7 Penguin productions, and loved having Francis as her mentor again this past year. Emily has Prader-Willi Syndrome.
Dusty BlackfordDustin Blackford with mentor Jeffrey Yeater on right Dusty is 19 and this is his second year with the Penguin Project. He loves going and meeting up with friends at practice, singing and dancing is right up his alley! Dusty loves the Penguin Project and also enjoys Special Olympics. He enjoys bowling, playing his DS and hanging out with friends. He also loves attending his WWE nights with other friends, especially getting to order pizza and watching the WWE match. Dusty was born with a brain abnormality in the right frontal lobe, causing him to have cognitive delays and seizure activity.
JJordan Brixordan Brix with mentor Hannah Talbott on right Jordan is 16 years old and is a sophomore at Morton High School. He competes on the golf team and participates in Circle of Friends at school. While he has cerebral palsy, he doesn’t let that slow him down. He plays Special Olympics basketball, golf and track. Jordan and his dad competed in the Special Olympics U.S.A. Games last June in Golf and they brought home a SILVER medal (out of 22 teams)! This is Jordan’s 5th year in Penguin Project. He thanks Hannah for all of her patience!
; Grant CareyGrant Thomas Carey with mentor Koen Raab on right Grant Thomas is an 8th grader at Peoria Christian Middle School. He loved being in “Grease Jr.” last year, attending two summers of Penguin camp, & “monkeying around” as a Wickersham Brother in “Seussical, Jr” with his mentor, Koen this year. Autism may keep him out of the spotlight, but not from running the spotlight for other theatre productions! Grant Thomas also loves playing the drums, piano, reading & scuba diving!
Courtney CarrollCourtney Carroll with mentor Elizabeth Berg on right Courtney was in her third Penguin Project production this year! Her cognitive disabilities make things difficult, but it doesn’t stop her from learning all the songs and dances. Courtney loves making new friends and has enjoyed her time with Elizabeth. Courtney sends thanks to all her family & friends for their support!
Jackie ConfortJaclyn Confort with mentor Kammi Osborn on right Jackie is 18 and a senior at Dunlap High School. Jackie is developmentally delayed due to being born prematurely birth at 27 weeks. She also has ADD. Jackie has been in 5 Penguin Project productions. She loves seeing her friends and making new friends through the program. Jackie enjoys singing, dancing & bowling.
Olivia CoombsOlivia Coombs Olivia is 20 years old and has been in 7 Penguin shows. She has taken on several lead roles over the years including Miss Dorothy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr”, Gabriella in “Disney’s High School Musical 2, Jr”, Ariel in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr”, Patty Simcox in “Grease-School Version”, and Gertrude in “Seussical, Jr.” She likes to act and perform, read, play games, hang out with friends and spoil her dog, Angel. Olivia has a learning disability that makes it hard for her to learn some things. She loves Penguins, it has allows her the opportunity to act, sing and make some wonderful friends! She says “Kathy, Ms. Kim and Dr. Andy are the BEST!!”
Brian CramerBrian Cramer with mentor Morgen Talbott on right Brian has been in 10 Penguin Project productions. He was Vince Fontaine in last year’s “Grease-School Version.” This was his third year with his mentor, Morgen, whom he adores. Brian has made many new friends over the years and thanks Dr. Andy and Kathy for this wonderful opportunity. Some of his favorite things include listening to the Bradley Braves, his police scanner, politics, auctions and watching any kind of award show on TV. Brian was born 15 weeks premature and has cerebral palsy, which confines him to a wheelchair.
Paris DowellParis Dowell with mentor Kenzie Trimble on right Paris is 14 and an 8th grader at Central Jr. High School at East Peoria. “Seussical, Jr” was her first Penguin production. Paris has an Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD and OCD. She loves movies & musicals and has deemed the Penguin Project “the best thing ever!”. Paris thanks everyone for their hard work & support!
Michael DykstraMichael D. Dykstra II with mentor Jeremiah Poppen on right

Michael is 10 years old and a 5th grader at Mark Bill School in Peoria. “Seussical Jr” was his first experience with The Penguin Project. He jumped in with both feet, performing the role of JoJo. Michael loves cheeseburgers! His Autism Spectrum Disorder gives him incredible math skills. At Penguin Project, he enjoys making friends and working with his mentor Jeremiah.

Amy Jo GetzAmy Jo Getz with mentor Josiah Getz on right Amy is 20 years old and has Ring 18 Chromosome Syndrome. She’s in the Life Academy at Morton High School. Nothing holds Amy back. “Seussical, Jr” was her seventh Penguin production, and she was happy to have her brother as her mentor. She was in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” Amy works part time at Culver’s and recently achieved the rank of Blue Belt in karate.
Charlie GrahekCharlie Grahek with mentor Heidi Stephenson on right Charlie is 14 years old and an 8th grader at Central Intermediate in Washington. “Seussical, Jr” was Charlie’s first Penguin production. He loves music, dancing and movies. His Tae Kwon Do lessons have prepared him for singing and dancing. Down syndrome doesn’t hold him back from having fun. Charlie loves Penguin Project because of all the kids he has met!
Taylor GravesTaylor Graves Taylor is 18 years old and a senior at East Peoria High School. She has spina bifida and hydrocephalus. This is Taylor’s 10th year as a penguin and thanks all her friends and family who continue to come and support her each year! She was Amaryliss in “Music Man, Jr”, Miss Flannery in “Thoroughly Modern Mille, Jr, and Frenchy in “Grease-School Version.” Taylor has had a busy year with working a summer job, starting classes at ICC, and visiting Disney World for the first time. She is now working towards getting her driver’s license and graduation next spring.
Naomi HardestyNaomi Joy Hardesty with mentor Amanda Foster on right aomi is 21 years old and has been in 10 Penguin Productions. It’s her most loved activity ever. Her traumatic brain injury and need for a wheelchair doesn’t interfere with her being a wonderful performer, singer or dancer with her Penguin friends. Her roles have included Zanita in “The Music Man, Jr”, Kelsi in “Disney’s High School Musical 2, Jr”, Scuttle in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr” and Mrs. Whozit in “Seissical, Jr.” Naomi is grateful for the Morgan’s, her amazing mentor and the wonderful staff. This year was her last performance with the Penguins at Eastlight Theater, but she is looking forward to the new program at ICC!
Emerson HoltEmerson Holt Emerson is a 15-year old sophomore at Morton High School. He has developed a love for performing through school plays and choir, playing bass in the school orchestra, and performing in six Penguin productions. His roles have included Fulton Jr. in “Disney’s High School Musical 2, Jr”, Ching Ho in “Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr”, Doody in “Grease-School Version”, and Horton the Elephant in this year’s production of “Seussical, Jr.” In his spare time, Emerson loves to play video games and golf, and is involved in his church’s youth group. He has ADHD and an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Jamie HeubschJamie Huebsch with mentor Elizabeth Bergschneider on right Jamie has been in all 11 Penguin Project productions! She’s 20 years old, attends East Peoria Community High School and works at Methodist Medical Center. Jamie is diagnosed with Global Delay and a complex seizure disorder. Jamie enjoys her job, loves to go shopping with her grandma Sharon and loves music. She loves her pets, Luke, Bear & Bunny Foo Foo. Jamie also loves to take pictures; she is really good at photography.
Gabriel HughesGabriel Hughes with mentor Ryann Pugh on right Gabriel Hughes is 10 years old and in the fifth grade at Lindbergh Middle School. This is his first year in the Penguin Project. He loves it! Gabriel enjoys making new friends and dancing and singing. Gabriel was born three months early and is developmentally delayed and has ADHD. His mentor, Ryann, has done a great job helping Gabriel focus.
Kenna Hulsizer Mackenna Hulsizer with mentor Louisa Lopez on right Kenna is a 9th grader at The Children’s Home Kiefer School. Her sensory integration disorder poses some day to day challenges while her ADHD keeps her on her toes. She loves all animals, though the wolf is her favorite. In her spare time she likes playing video games and reading books about fantasy and animal fiction. Kenna loves to sing and has recently learned to play the violin. The Penguin Project is the perfect outlet for her talent and has allowed her to become a part of a great activity with a wonderful group of people. “Seussical, Jr” was her 3rd Penguin production! She was Rizzo last year in “Grease-School Version.”
Olivia JohnsonOlivia Johnson with mentor Camryn Salazar on right Olivia is 11 years old and is in 6th grade at Washington Middle School. She was born 14 weeks premature, and has cerebral palsy and an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neither keeps her from defying expectations for 11 years and counting! Olivia loves singing, dancing, stuffed animals and actual animals, especially horses. After years of watching Penguin Project productions, Olivia is thrilled to finally get the chance to participate! She’s grateful to her mentor, Camryn, for being such a good friend and helper.
Nicole KellerNicole L. Keller Nicole is 12 years old and is diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and learning disabilities. She has been to Penguin Project camp before, but “Seussical, Jr” was her first Penguin Project production. She loves to dance and twirl baton. Nicole choreographs her own routines, which helps her deal with her ADHD. To control her ODD, she loves to build and solve all types of puzzles. Nicole likes music, animals and the outdoors. Nicole enjoys meeting and making friends at Penguin Camp and the Penguin Project.
Nathan LambertNathan Lambert Nathan is a sophomore at East Peoria High School. This is Nathans 7th Penguin production. His previous roles include LeFou in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr”, Bun Foo in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr”, and King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr.” He was The Grinch in this year’s production of “Seussical, Jr.” Asperger’s Disorder has given Nathan a unique personality. Nathan enjoys video games, movies and reading. This experience has given him the courage to do new things like volunteering at the Peoria Zoo. Nathan adds: “Penguins Rock!!”
Sarah LarsonSarah Larson with mentor Abigail Roberts on right Sarah is 20 years old and goes to the Morton Life Academy at the Morton High School. Sarah has speech and limb apraxia. This is her 5th performance with the Penguin Project. She values the friendships she has made through the program. Sarah likes to hang out with friends, go to the movies and bowling.
Darren LeeDarren Lee with mentor Kali DeFoer on right Darren is fifteen years old. He loves spicy food, reading animal books, playing video games, visiting the family farm and being a Penguin. Darren has cognitive and developmental challenges due to premature birth. The Penguin Project offers Darren a safe community where he can belong, have some fun, improve his social skills and build confidence. He has been in the past two Penguin productions.
Diego LopezDiego A. Lopez with mentor Colin Edwards on right Diego is 14 years old and is in 8th grade at Princeville Jr. High. This is his second year in Penguin Project. He enjoys being with his peers that are like him. Diego thanks Ms. Kathy and Dr. Andy for bringing out the best in him and thanks Colin, his mentor. When he’s not singing and dancing, he enjoys playing video games and creating Lego/Halo creations.
Bradon McElyeaBrayden McElyea with mentor Kelsey Williams on right This is Brayden’s first year in the Penguin Project. He loves it and looks forward to many more. Brayden is 10 years old and is in the 5th grade at Bolin. He’s a very sweet, happy boy who’s on the Autism spectrum. This “ability” allows him to be able to memorize things easily. He’s in gymnastics, loves learning, reading, basketball, swimming, I-pad, video/board games and being with his family. Brayden is very thankful for his mentor, his new penguin friends, everyone who makes this possible and everyone who has come out to support him!
Reagan OsbornReagan Osborn with mentor Ashley Wittekiend on right Reagan is 12 years old. Her Aspergers Syndrome makes her very passionate about the things she enjoys. She loves Minecraft, Pokemon, and anime. Reagan’s hobbies include drawing, reading, and singing. The Penguin Project gives her opportunities to perform with a lot of great friends. She was Mayzie in “Seussical, Jr”, her first year in the program.
Max PetrovMax E. Petrov with mentor Michael Poppen on right Max is a 12 year old fifth grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Morton. He has Intellectual Disability and an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and is non-verbal. Max loves Transformers, super heroes and reading. He has enjoyed watching the Penguin Project productions over the years and was excited to be participating for the first time this year.
Bryce RaabBryce Raab with mentor Rebecca Gorman on right Bryce is 15 years old, attends Dunlap High School, and absolutely LOVES being a Penguin. He enjoys singing, dancing, puzzles, creating artwork, hiking and going on adventures with his family. He is also active in Dunlap Eagles Special Olympics. Bryce was the first child diagnosed with Autism at the Peoria Easter Seals Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic in January 2003. He’s grown to become a kind, caring young man that has consistently advanced socially and academically. “Seussical, Jr” was his second Penguin Project production.
Caroline RickettsCaroline Ricketts with mentor Kaci Stromberger on right Caroline is 14 and a freshman at Richwood’s High School. She loves music, reading, spending time with her friends and volunteering at her church and Lutheran Hillside Village. Caroline has sensory integration disorder and various learning disabilities. She works extra hard for good grades, but being a considerate student, wonderful friend and caring for her community come naturally to her. The Penguin Project is a cherished part of her life and she’s thrilled to be a part of “Seussical”!
Kathy RiddleKathy Riddle with mentor Megan Weeks on right Kathy is 17years old and a sophomore at Morton HS. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, watching old comedy shows while on an I-pad looking at Vera Bradley. Kathy has a cognitive disability and speech apraxia. Kathy never tires of going to Penguin practice to sing, dance and hang with her mentor and friends. “Seussical, Jr” was her 5th Penguin production.
Matthew SchultzMatthew Schultz with mentor Skylar Kellstadt on right Matthew was born with Down syndrome. He’s been in The Penguin Project for 8 years. Matthew’s had several roles over the years including a variety of roles including Motel in “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr”, Fulton in “Disney’s High School Musical 2, Jr”, and Grimsby in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr.” Matthew just completed 7 months of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He thanks Dr. Andy, Ms. Kathy, Ms. Kim, Mackenzee and Britney for developing his passion for music and acting throughout this terrific journey of a lifetime! A sincere “thank you” also goes to his mentor, Skylar – they are friends for life!
Kaci SmithKaci Meaghan Smith with mentor Claire Inskeep on right Kaci is 21 years old and has performed in all 11 Penguin productions! She has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but has blossomed and has truly impacted many lives with her unique talent of just Being Herself! She was a Silly Girl in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr”, a Pricilla Girl in “Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr”, and a Mersister in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr.” She was also Cha Cha DeGregoria last year in “Grease-School Version”, and Mrs. Mayor in her final Penguin Performance in “Seussical, Jr” this year. Kaci thanks Zee and the entire Production Crew for their patience and hugs!!
Billy SpanglerWilliam Spangler Billy is 21 years old and is majoring in Biomedical Engineering at Bradley University where he is on the Dean’s list (again). His Penguin credits include Bert Healy in “Annie, Jr”, Charlie in “The Music Man, Jr”, Jack in “High School Musical 2, Jr”, Trevor Graydon in “Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr, and Johnny Casino in “Grease-School Version.” He culminated his Penguin Career as The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical, Jr” this year. Billy has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Anxiety Disorder and Kyphosis (hunchback). While he was always fortunate to be challenged academically, rewards like honor rolls and honor societies came near the end of high school and things really came together in college. A social life was also slow to develop but now is rich with friends, the majority he met in The Penguin Project. “Seussical, Jr” was Billy’s farewell performance and he thanks Dr. Andy for his abundance of patience.
Holly StephensonHolly Stephenson with mentor Bridget Kwiat on right Holly is 15 years old and a freshman at Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School. She loves school especially chorus, art and science. “Seussical, Jr” was her 7th Penguin Project production. Holly is very grateful for Penguin Project and the opportunity to make so many great friends. She thanks her family and friends for coming to see her.
Anthony StoneAnthony Stone with mentor Maryjane Spangler on right Anthony is 14 years old and an 8th grader at Lindbergh. He loves to play video games, sing, go to church and spend time with his friends and family. Anthony likes learning new songs and loves to perform. His visual impairment gives him incredible memory skills and his cystic fibrosis gives him the ability to be ready for anything. The Penguin Project has given him the opportunity to meet new friends and experience theater! He is very thankful to his new friend and mentor, Maryjane for all her help.
Mandy TottenAmanda M. Totten with mentor Jessica Pray on right Mandy is 21 years old and has Pervasive Developmental Disorder. She’s a 2013 graduate of IVC and is currently taking classes at ICC. Mandy works on the weekends at her favorite store, Build-A-Bear Workshop. She enjoys computer games, listening to music & cooking. Mandy has been thrilled to be involved with the Penguin Project and was the Sour Kangaroo this year in “Seussical, Jr.” She plans to continue being involved at ICC.
Karsen Trimble Karsen M. Trimble with mentor Lexus Rice on right Karsen is 13 years old and has been diagnosed with epilepsy and Asperger’s syndrome. This is her second production with The Penguin Project. Karsen enjoys singing and dancing as well as making mix CDs for her friends and family. This year she was blessed to make a new good friend, her service dog, Zeus.
Jacob UrbanJacob Urban with mentor Jaret Ledford on right Jacob is 17 years old, has Down syndrome and is a junior at Morton High School. In his free time Jacob likes to watch movies, listen to music and dance whenever possible. This is Jacob’s 7th year being in the Penguin Project and his favorite show was “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” He was Flotsam in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr. He loves to perform and enjoys each and every practice with all of his Penguin family.
Daniel Van BuskirkDaniel Van Buskirk with mentor Bunny Zell on right Daniel has participated in many musical shows, including 7 Penguin productions. His dedication paid off this year, as he was cast as Mr. Mayor in “Seussical, Jr.” He thanks all his directors for giving him a chance to shine. Daniel also thanks Bunny for always being the best mentor. He is dedicating his performance in “Seussical, Jr” to his late Grandfather, David Crowell, who loved watching him perform.
Kyrstin WardKyrstin M. Ward with Katy Keithley on right Kyrstin is 12 years old. She has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and is essentially nonverbal. She’s come a long way in the 9 years that she has been with her grandparents. Kyrstin goes to Farmington Central Junior High. She loves music and is into “Frozen” and My Little Ponies. This was her first year in The Penguin Project, and she had fun making Penguin friends. Her mentor Katy is awesome with her! We are so thankful for the Penguin Project.
Adam WestAdam West with mentor Adam Smith on right Adam has Down syndrome, and is a 19 year old super senior at Dunlap High School. “Seussical, Jr” was Adam’s fourth Penguin production and he was thrilled to be a Wickersham brother! In addition to Penguin Project, Adam loves participating in Special Olympics, Best Buddies and hanging out with his family and friends. He also loves to cook and talk on his new cell phone. Adam thanks everyone who makes Penguin Project possible and all those who support the program.
Victoria WilliamsVictoria Williams with Sydney Becker on right Victoria, who has Down syndrome, is 16 years old and is a sophomore at Limestone High School. Her favorite hobby is to write songs, listen to music and be with her friends. This is Victoria’s 7th year with Penguin Project. She says her favorite thing about this is to see all the smiles on her friends’ faces and to sing and dance in the plays.

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