“Every child deserves the same opportunities to thrive, grow, learn, feel supported and loved, and it is through the arts that we make that happen”, says Michael Pizzi, Ph.D., founder and director of the Special Broadway Camp.
Over the summer 2018, Pizzi created the Special Broadway Camp for children with special needs through his nonprofit organization Touching Humanity Inc. With the help of some amazing high school and adult volunteers, kids with special needs learned new skills and performed their own show.
“It is amazing how special you can make someone feel by giving them something meaningful to do,” Pizzi says.
The participation this year was double that of last year, and their diagnoses included autism, sensory defensiveness, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
“Any child with a disability is welcome,” says Pizzi.
Pizzi is also founder and artistic director of the Sandhills Repertory Theatre (SRT) which produces concerts and musical theater featuring Broadway and NYC talent here in the Sandhills.
For the Special Broadway Camp, which was free, he combines his professional artistry with his skills and knowledge of occupational therapy to help children who are left out of the arts to feel included, supported and loved while at the same time providing them skills for living such as emotional regulation, social skill development and improving their mental health through the arts.
“It is what I always felt was needed, and I was compelled to create this camp,” he says. “The feeling of being not included, bullied and marginalized never leaves you. So creating a camp where none of that exists for these children hits home and is my way of giving back and saying ‘you are special, valued and worthy.’
“One parent told us she has never allowed her son to go to any camp, but was so pleased with the results that she cannot wait for next summer. Another said she has never seen her daughter so happy and went home every night to practice, where before she would be more of a couch potato.”
The children worked hard at creating some special musical activities along with self-created monologues from Aug. 6-9. “Volunteers included high school students, retired former teachers, occupational therapy students and therapists, who contributed special talents, skills and, most particularly, their hearts,” Pizzi says. “Our special performance was open to all and was free to the general public due to the support of the Rotary Club of the Sandhills, Lori Stevens, Karl and Harriet Ecker, Trudi and Alex Porter and the Arc of Moore County.
Grant Larsen was the videographer, and volunteer Suzannah Davis was the pianist.
“We were so pleased that the Hannah Bradshaw Activities Center Theater of The O’Neal School donated the space and charged us little for tech support,” says Pizzi. “In order to keep this free, we need your financial support.”