This speech was first given at Calabasas High School’s Dance Team Benefit for Ballet For All Kids:

Self-confidence.  Friendship.  Self-discipline.  The pure and simple joy of movement. These are some of the benefits of a classical ballet education.

But many children – children on the Autism Spectrum, children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, children with Anxiety Disorders, Behavioral issues, and ADHD – cannot succeed in a traditional ballet class setting.

It was with that in mind that Ballet For All Kids was created so that all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, could have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a classical ballet education and experience the joy of dance.

I would love to be able to share each and every one of our amazing student’s stories. Each of our kids has been on an incredible journey and has shown so much bravery and determination that it leaves me breathless.  The child that stands up from his wheelchair puts his feet in first and attempts a demi plie.  The child with Autism who is terrified of new situations but stands bravely in their first class because they just want to dance like Angelina Ballerina.  The child with developmental delays who works every week for three years and triumphantly now can skip from foot to foot.  These are incredible children and I am continually inspired and uplifted by their spirit and love.

But Ballet For All Kids is more than just its students – it is our wonderful volunteers that make this program work.  Week after week, our volunteers give tirelessly of their time, energy and compassion to our students. Most of my volunteers start helping BFAK because they need the community service hours at their school.  But they keep coming week after week, early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, long after they have finished with their required community service hours – out of pure and simple love for these kids.

The relationships that I have seen develop between our volunteers and our students has reaffirmed my hope and faith in humanity.

Recently, one of my volunteers shared her college essay with me and I would like to share part of it with you:

Maddie has Down Syndrome. Maddie is my inspiration. There is no moment more special or rewarding than the moment Maddie gets a dance step right. When you look into her eyes it is as if you see her heart smiling, and then yours smiles back because you know that you just made the world’s difference to this little girl. Ironically, though, it was really her who did everything for you. Maddie keeps me going when I want to give up; she encourages me to work harder, to be better, and to dream bigger. Maddie has taught me to see life with passion and enthusiasm, to absorb all the good, and fight through all the bad. She has taught me to be kind, to be patient, to be accepting and willing to understand others, but most of all she has taught me to see the world differently. Every Sunday I see Maddie; every Sunday is my favorite day.

I couldn’t agree more.