Leading, Learning and Thriving, Onstage & Off (cont'd)
Two years ago, KAF expanded its outreach to include children with autism and down syndrome with the unique Horizons program which offers children with disabilities the chance to perform in musical showcases, simultaneously giving them the chance to build self-confidence and positive self-esteem through collaborative, creative theatre experiences.
Julie Hernandez, Executive Director, and Skyler Lightfoot, KAF Administrator, both note how transformational participating in a theatre production is for a child, regardless of background or skill level. Theatre “is kind of like the ultimate team sport,” Hernandez explains, “because they all have to figure out how to work out together.” Not only does the program help kids prepare for standardized testing, but it also helps with literacy. “We’re bringing kids in who have never been on stage. There are a lot of English language learners, and this really promotes literacy for them.”
For kids in the Horizons program, Lightfoot explains that it’s a safe space where self-expression and individuality are not only allowed but also encouraged. The program gives students the ability to find confidence in their own skin.
Lightfoot enthuses about a child who has been in the Horizons program every time they offered it because of his transformative experience. “He was basically non-verbal. And then we did School House Rock, and he got on stage and closed his eyes and sang at the top of his lungs. His parents were so blown away by it that he’s been in every single performance that we’ve done.” Lightfoot continues with a smile, “Part of the heart and soul of our program is bringing this to the down syndrome and autism communities.”
Most remarkable of all is that the programming offered through KAF is completely free for participants. Though getting grants to keep the programs afloat remains KAF’s greatest administrative challenge, Lightfoot adds, “No matter the hurdles… we just want to build our participants’ confidence and self-esteem.”
KAF has kids who come from all over, and they work together as part of a community to achieve an end goal. Lightfoot smiles as she sums it up in saying, “It’s not [just] about the show; it’s about having fun and the path to get to the stage.”