Very in­clu­sive Penn State club in­spires youth per­form­ers

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY IS­ABEL ROMANOWSKI iro­[email protected]­

The spot­light is a scary place for some peo­ple — but not for the mem­bers of Penn State’s mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary per­form­ing arts club Har­mony.

Har­mony is a per­form­ing arts group of 26 stu­dents — cur­rently rang­ing in age from 4 to 42 — open to those with and with­out spe­cial needs. They’re joined by 33 Penn State stu­dent vol­un­teers.

Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, Har­mony’s goal is to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for any­one who wants to join to build re­la­tion­ships, pro­mote in­clu­sion, de­velop emo­tional aware­ness, im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion and self-ex­pres­sion. Plan­ning for the cre­ation of Har­mony be­gan in 2011, and the first class took place in the fall of 2013.

Tay­lor Bal­liet, a Penn State ju­nior, is the pres­i­dent of Har­mony. She has been in­volved with the or­ga­ni­za­tion since fall 2016.

“I was drawn to Har­mony at the in­volve­ment fair since their poster had a stage and cur­tains on it,” Bal­liet said. “When I learned it was a group for kids with spe­cial needs, I knew it was the group for me.”

Bal­liet’s brother is autis­tic, so she said Har­mony helps her feel close to home when she is away.

“The goal of this group is to pro­vide a place where ev­ery­one can come to have a voice and ex­press cre­ativ­ity,” she said, “it’s an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ev­ery Mon­day the group meets for re­hearsal, where they are split into two groups — the main Har­mony group is made up of stu­dents ages 10 and older, and the HarMINIs group is stu­dents ages 4 to 9.

Dur­ing the re­hearsals, the stu­dents learn var­i­ous act­ing, danc­ing and mu­si­cal skills, with an em­pha­sis on hav­ing fun.

Har­mony puts on two show­cases a year. On Mon­day, they were busy putting the fin­ish­ing touches on their win­ter per­for­mance: “Frozen.” In the past, show­cases have fea­tured “The Wizard of Oz,” “An­nie,” “The Lit­tle Mer­maid” and sev­eral oth­ers. Each show is its own the­ater pro­duc­tion, fea­tur­ing act­ing, singing and danc­ing.

Al­lie Stump, a ju­nior at Penn State, be­gan vol­un­teer­ing with Har­mony ear­lier this fall. Har­mony vol­un­teers serve as men­tors to the stu­dents, and they work to­gether to cre­ate re­la­tion­ships through the arts.

“Be­ing a part of this group has been awe­some — it is one of the best things I’ve been a part of in col­lege,” she said. “You can’t leave re­hearsal with­out a smile on your face.”

Stump is in­volved with sev­eral other big groups on campus, but said this was the small thing she was look­ing for at Penn State.

“It is so per­sonal to be able to con­nect to th­ese peo­ple and see them grow per­son­ally and emo­tion­ally,” she said, “it’s re­ally mo­ti­va­tional.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bal­liet, a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that this group is only for those with spe­cial needs. This group is open to any com­mu­nity mem­ber who wishes to join.

Sopho­more vol­un­teer Olivia Gol­go­sky is fin­ish­ing her sec­ond se­mes­ter as a part of Har­mony.

“This group has been re­ally life chang­ing,” she said, “be­ing that help­ing hand as th­ese peo­ple shine on stage is re­ally im­pact­ful.”

Bal­liet has also found per­sonal help within the group, as she has bipo­lar dis­or­der.

“Some­times it’s re­ally hard to get through the de­pres­sive episodes — I come to Har­mony and al­ways get hugs and smiles, which makes a huge dif­fer­ence,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this group I might not be here to­day.”

PHO­TOS BY ABBY DREY [email protected]­

Gabe Billy, who plays Olaf, sings dur­ing re­hearsal last week for Har­mony’s per­for­mance of “Frozen” in Schwab Au­di­to­rium.

The Har­mony club fea­tures per­form­ers with and with­out spe­cial needs. It has two per­for­mances a year.

Laven­der Capenos, who plays Elsa, works with in­struc­tor Am­ber Sho­jaie dur­ing re­hearsal for “Frozen.”

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