Once a year, a magical and touching celebration of the human spirit unfolds at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria, Illinois. A group of children in a program called The Penguin Project® take to the stage to perform a modified version of a well-known Broadway musical. This production is unique, however, because all of the roles are filled by children with developmental disabilities including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and other neurological disorders. 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 4 months of rehearsals and the final production. By creating unrestricted access to the performing arts, The Penguin Project® demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability need not handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences.

“Our penguins may not be able to fly, but that does not prevent their spirits from soaring.”

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