Friday, April 22, 2011

In Washington state, disabled kids let their talents shine in show

From The News-Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. In the picture, Madison Ness, 11, left, performs a hip hop dance routine April 17 with partner Lindsey Rolf, 16.

In the eyes of the crowd in Puyallup on Saturday, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler couldn’t hold a candle to Zion Tualatai, 11, and Austin Darr, 13.

As Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” blared in the background, the two boys showed off their walking abilities on stage in a darkened auditorium filled with hundreds of spectators.

Sure, the boys got a bit of support from the physical therapists close at their sides. But it was Zion and Austin who were lifting their feet, using their own strength and their own balancing skills to carefully step forward and pause on cue.

When their performance ended, they basked in thunderous applause from the appreciative audience. The fifth annual Celebration of Our Stars, held at Emerald Ridge High School on South Hill, featured the talents of more than 70 special-needs children.

The performers included clients at the Children’s Therapy Unit at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital, as well as students in Puyallup’s SAIL program at Kalles Junior High and E-Sail at Ridgecrest Elementary.

Many of the children have muscular dystrophy, speech delays, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or other cognitive and neuromuscular disorders that hinder their ability to participate in typical childhood activities.

“They don’t get the soccer trophies or the dance recitals. This is a recital for them,” said Good Samaritan physical therapist Sara Kerrick, one of the show organizers. “… They’re on stage for who they are, and not for who they aren’t.”

Zion’s talent of walking across the stage was indeed an accomplishment for the boy, who has cerebral palsy, said his parents, Florence and Eric Lolagi of Edgewood. Though he sometimes uses a wheelchair, Zion has been walking for a couple of years, but is still learning how to bend his knee and stop walking.

“He has good balance. He hardly ever falls,” his mother said. But, she added, “Usually he just walks and if he’s putting on a coat or something, he doesn’t really know how to stop, so walking and stopping is a big thing for him.”

That’s why his performance Saturday, which incorporated stopping on cue, was all the more impressive.

“I think he did great,” Eric Lolagi said.

Other children sang, told jokes and danced. One boy traced letters on an iPad; a girl deftly stacked cups in an assortment of pyramid shapes. Virginia Godinez, 61/2, sang “You Are a True Friend,” with her 51/2-year-old brother, Gideon. The girl has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and heart problems, among other things, said her mother, Amie Godinez. When she was born, doctors said she might not ever walk, Godinez added, as Virginia ran around the reception area after the show. She has performed in all five talent shows.

“There’s always a lot of reflection this time of year as we’re watching it. We remember the journey we’ve had, where we’ve come from,” said Godinez of Graham. “Every year we get to see the progress of the other kids, too, and it’s just amazing. It gives us hope.”

Leah and Michael Molnar of Puyallup proudly watched their son Matthias, who turns 6 next month, perform “Ring Around the Rosey” with other kids.

“I did my show,” said Matthias, who has William’s Syndrome, a rare genetic, multi-system disorder that causes sensory, developmental and other challenges. “I got a trophy.”

He and the other performers each received a trophy with two shiny stars, engraved with “Celebration of Our Stars 2011.”

Saturday was the fourth time Matthias participated.

“The first year when he came out for the finale, and everyone clapped, he threw his hands over his ears and started crying. He got scared. It was so loud,” Michael Molnar said. “But now, this year he was fine. That’s definite progress he’s making.”