I was incredibly honored to take pictures last month for the National Autism Association of North Texas at their annual talent show. This remarkable event was sponsored by PISD SAGE (Plano Independant School District, Special and Gifted Education).
What a blessing for these children to have such amazing support from their schools! The event is one of the biggest highlights for these families each year. The children really look forward to it.
I was especially excited to see my friend Lizzie perform. Not only was she the MC during the first show (a job she's perfectly suited for, by the way), but she also gave a spirited song and dance performance to close out the show. She rocked it!
I am so proud of her!
You may recall I wrote about Lizzie last year as I documented her various treatments for autism. She has come such a long way! Lizzie is so full of life and exuberance. I just know God has amazing things in store for her!
I was excited to discover that a few of my other friends were performing at the Talent show as well. I volunteer twice a month in the special needs ministry at our church. One of these boys is in my Sunday School class. We know the other two children from Fun Zone (a free once a month parent's night out for those who have children with special needs).
Alden and I just happened to be assigned as this sweet little girl's buddy at Fun Zone the following week. What a doll! I was thankful for my friend Julie's many blog posts over at The Autism Spot which helped prepare me to better direct our play at Fun Zone. This sweet little girl is my daughter's age, yet she plays the piano like an angel.
It goes without saying that these children are a joy!
I must confess. Watching all of these amazing young people perform in front of their family and friends brought back memories from my own childhood. My brothers always had the lead roles in their school plays. They were the performers in our family. I, on the other-hand, faked illnesses in order to avoid having to audition in front of my peers.
You read that right.
I pretended I was sick in order to get out of something that scared the living day-lights out of me. I was afraid of making a fool of myself. I was afraid of failing. I let that fear paralyze me.
As I watched these children perform, I recognized that very same fear in a few of their eyes as they stepped in front of the audience for the very first time. For a few of them, their body-language was a dead-give-away to the trembling fear that was bubbling up inside.
I could relate.
But that's where our similarities ended.
One by one, these children overcame their fears and displayed tremendous courage. They took the stage and gave it their best shot.
They are my heroes!
This year's show was full of great talent. Celebrity tributes were in full-force. Songs by Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, and Garth Brooks filled the auditorium. Juggling acts, readings, poetry, and several dance performances delighted the crowd. Even a few real-life celebrities were present. You may recognize the cheer-leading team from the Oprah Winfrey show!
How cool is that?
Take a look at these amazing young people:
This next young man was the MC for the second show. He had a radio broadcaster's voice for sure. I almost felt like I was at a Chicago Bull's game listening to the announcer welcome the home team on court as he introduced each act. (Which, if you think about it, is exactly what he was doing.) He closed the show with a heart-felt Frank Sinatra solo.
It was beautiful!
Though some of these acts began in fear, without fail, by the middle of their performance a transformation began to take place. Their once rigid bodies slowly relaxed in their new-found confidence (one that only comes by taking chances). Their voices became a little stronger, their dance steps a little lighter and uninhibited.
They were coming into their own and enjoying the moment.
And as the crowd erupted in applause, the transformation was complete. Faces once shy and unsure were overcome with pride, joy, happiness, and delight. For some, tears ran down their faces as they realized they had accomplished something quite grand.
It was Incredible!
I was left to wonder. How would I be different today, had I taken a chance on myself like that back then?
Thankfully, these children have a different story to tell someday - and a medal to show for it.
At the end of both shows, each participant was presented with a medal - symbolizing their great accomplishment. What a joy to see their sense of confidence and pride in themselves.
A special shout out goes to my friend Julie who takes on this project each year in order to provide this amazing opportunity for growth to those who might otherwise be over-looked. So many parents and volunteers (including a handful of kind-hearted high-school students) gave of their time to invest in these precious young people.
The impact of their generous service is immeasurable!
I'll end with this thought:
I photographed this event as a volunteer - hoping to give back to these families who give so much of themselves every day as they fight to help their children become all they can be. In the end, I am the one who left blessed. What an honor to take part in this celebration of these young people's unique gifts and talents.
The courage and bravery they displayed will always serve as an example to me to not let fear stand in my way. We may never know what we are fully capable of unless we have the courage to take center stage - whatever our "stage" may be.