A project underway at the Ritz Theater in downtown Brunswick has the potential to change young lives for the better, providing confidence and social skills to special-needs youth.

But for the Penguin Project to continue, it needs our help.

If you haven’t heard of it already, the Penguin Project provides students with special needs an opportunity to perform in a Broadway-style musical. Each special-needs child is paired with a mentor who helps them along the way as they rehearse and prepare to perform “Annie Jr.” in June.

We have one of 18 active Penguin Project programs in the U.S., a program created by a doctor who works with special-needs children in Illinois in 2004.

Heather Heath took on the project at Golden Isles Arts and Humanities when co-collaborator Allyson Jackson brought it to her because she saw the merit in helping children learn social skills who find it difficult to develop them.

Since the program began in the fall of last year, that has happened.

“The first day, a lot of the kids were shy, they were withdrawn and there wasn’t a lot of interaction between them,” said Stacy Carson, mother of the lead cast member. “And now, there’s been so much socialization among all of them. It just touches your heart, because the’ve been given this opportunity.”

But for that opportunity to continue annually, the Penguin Project needs the community’s financial help.

Jackson set out with a goal of roughly $15,000 to put operate the program. Today, a month before the production is set to debut, she said there is still about $3,000 needed to meet that goal for this year.

We hope the Penguin Project is the benefactor of the same generosity other nonprofit programs in our community receive. In the grand scheme of things, given the ability of our community to answer the fundraising call again and again, $3,000 should not be a problem to raise by the time the play debuts.

Each dollar given to the Penguin Project is a dollar going toward giving special-needs students a chance to learn how social interactions and confidence in themselves will pay off later in life. These are students who may not have the developmental ability to be CEOs and doctors in the future, but with a few experiences like the Penguin Project today, they can certainly grow into productive adults in the future.

We wish them well and hope the community responds to help this worthwhile project and ensure it becomes a staple in the Golden Isles. We hope potential donors who realize the incredible benefits this program provides will consider giving long term to make this an annual event.

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