Performing in front of an audience is something everyone should have access to, according to Kristen Debenedetto, an Include Everyone Project gala committee member.
With that in mind, the Include Everyone Project created a performance on Saturday that allowed for its students to take center stage in front of all the attendees at the organization’s second annual Winter Gala and Silent Auction at The Centre.
“Each person should have the opportunity to experience the rush and joy of standing on a stage and knowing that they accomplished something spectacular,” said Debenedetto. “These students are all indeed incredibly spectacular.”
IEP provides performing arts classes for all abilities, self-care workshops and classes for caregivers, social events and support and resources to the disabled community.
“Our mission is to provide creative spaces that encourage all members of the community to come together while embracing those with disabilities,” said Debenedetto. “So basically, what does that mean? It means giving all of our students the opportunity to experience the joy of performing just as they are, where they are, and we meet them where they are.”
Students from the IEP’s movement class opened the gala with their performance of “Something in the Air” from “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” dressed in red scarves and Christmas head wear. Students of all abilities copied Debenedetto’s sliding, swaying hands and clapping.
The kids ran to the back of the room and transitioned into the music classes’ performance. They sang and jingled bells to the holiday classic “Jingle Bells.” The bells were not the only instrument that the class had brought for the performance. Standing drums had the kids drumming to the beats in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from the movie “Frozen.” IEP gala committee member Rodney Dong accompanied them on the acoustic guitar.
“They are an inspiration for us every day to do what we do,” said Dong.
All of the students finished off by performing Madonna’s “Holiday” with all of the skills they learned from their classes.
“You can see why my heart explodes every week,” said Debenedetto.
Debenedetto took to the microphone to thank and honor someone who is no longer alive but played a big part in making the performance possible – Kevin Finkelstein, a former board member.
In honor of Finkelstein’s memory, IEP came together to create the organization’s first scholarship.
“I have another beautiful human who is here today, who represents all the hope and wonderful things that Kevin was and continues to be for all of us,” said Debenedetto.
The Kevin Finkelstein scholarship was presented to IEP member Corilyn Calcote.
In continuance with the theme of performance and “celebrations around the world,” the Kalakeke Pacific Island Dance Co. performed Christmas hula dances and Mostly Organic Improv entertained the audience with their games.
“The arts require nothing except a desire to open yourself up to them. They are a universal language,” said Debenedetto. “Beauty and expression are measured by the individual and by the performer.”
All of the proceeds from the event are going toward efforts to benefit kids, youth and young adults with disabilities in the Santa Clarita Valley to attend performing arts camps and programs.