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Alana is a 2012 ANNpower Fellow who used her ANNpower Grant to implement her project, Theater Connection.

Throughout high school, I have volunteered with individuals with special needs, and I have found that working with such amazing people has made an impact on how I live my life. I’ve realized that there is so much ability in each and every person, and I want to highlight the individuality and abilities in each and every student with special needs. That is why I decided to work with a group of about forty students, including students with special needs, to write and perform a play for people in my community in Northbrook, IL.

At the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum, I realized that even though I am young, I have a voice and the ability to shape the future for those around me. I felt the need to pay it forward-as the ANNpower program taught me-and, after receiving an ANNpower Grant, I began to turn my idea into a reality. My project is called Theater Connection. My goal was to connect students with special needs and volunteers through theater. I had a vision of enabling the participants in my program to feel special and confident, and give them something to look forward to and feel excited about. I believe those feelings are some of the most rewarding and powerful.

I started the process by contacting Keshet, an organization serving people with special needs that I volunteer for every Sunday. Then, I wrote a play called In the Beginning, based on the story of Adam and Eve. After I wrote the play, the fun part began! I assigned the parts and our group rehearsed every Sunday for five weeks. The day finally came to perform the show, and the students dressed up in costumes and performed for an audience of about thirty people. It was an amazing turnout!

During the play, I could see so many smiles on everyone’s faces in the audience. There were some laughs as well! They were so proud of their friends and family members for learning all the parts and putting on a great show. A mother of one of the students told me, “It is so amazing how you incorporated every single student in this play– no matter their struggles or abilities. I have never seen such a powerful demonstration of care for this group of individuals with special needs.”  I was also proud-the forty participants had gone outside of their comfort zones and performed a wonderful play. It was touching to see my creation come to life, and I plan on writing a short play next year and rehearsing with the students again.

The ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum enabled me to see what needed to be done to make a change in my community. Implementing my ANNpower Project took time, effort, and creativity, but the inspiration I took from my ANNpower Mentor, Kah Walla, helped me to make it a reality. Kah taught me the power of strength and persistence. Her inspiring story of leaving her fear behind when she was kidnapped reminded me that even if I have many fears and face great obstacles, there is always a means to overcome the challenge. For example, during the show, one student, who played the snake, began to yell that he wanted to quit and was not ready.  But I thought of Kah and her example helped me to get through it. With a patient audience, I spoke to the student, and he finally went back on stage and did his part.  Kah’s inspiration and example helped shape my leadership skills and I know the lessons I learned from her will last forever.

I have always worked hard to do the right thing, and this program, Theater Connection, is a culmination of all my efforts. At first, I never thought this play would become a reality, but I pushed to create something magical and influential, and in the end, the impact was immeasurable.

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