Hempfield's All Kids Theater reaches out to special-needs children, too
Students listened to the hushed tones of “The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright” during story time at a summer camp session at Hempfield's All Kids Theater.
Later, they shook maracas and clacked rhythm sticks in a free-for-all band.
The term “all kids” in the group's name refers to any child, including those with special needs, who is interested in music, theater and the arts, said pediatrician Jodi Jackson.
She and her husband, clinical social worker Ben Yaroch, bought and renovated a former church along Route 136 in Darragh last year.
They and Mia Szumetz, owner and director of Maestro Minds School of Music, are the nonprofit's principal partners.
Over the next hour, the children learned the definitions of “dialogue,” “projection” and “improv.”
They put on plastic construction hats and marched to the song, “Never Smile At a Crocodile.”
Some sang along; others observed.
When one boy walked away and climbed onto his mother's lap, Dr. Jackson gently held out her hand. With his mother's encouragement, the boy rejoined the group.
Szumetz's school is in the theater.
“Our sons were involved with (Szumetz's) program, and they loved music and theater,” said Jackson of Jeannette.
“We wanted to see the same things offered to (our) boys offered to children with developmental disabilities,” Yaroch said.
The goal, Szumetz said, is to eventually offer year-round classes for “all kids” — those without or with disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome or physical and intellectual challenges.
“I care for many children with a wide spectrum of physical, developmental and behavioral needs. These families' lives revolve around continuous support of their children's basic needs, including therapies, educational plans/supports, as well as numerous doctor visits,” Jackson said.
That population of children may have limited opportunities to participate in the performing arts, she said.
When Malka Rubin's family attended a spring performance at the 101-seat theater, the 8-year-old surprised them by playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the piano.
“We didn't know she could do that,” said her mother, Michele Rubin of Export.
Her daughter is on the autism spectrum and has some difficulty in socializing, she said.
“We thought theater might be a good way for her to express herself,” Rubin said.
Elaine Strange said her daughter, Jenna, 8, is high-functioning on the autism spectrum.
After just two classes, the little girl who doesn't sing at home or in the car belted out a song from the popular Disney musical “Frozen” in front of a small audience.
“It's hard to find a place for her where she fits in. She just fits here, and she loves it,” said Strange of South Huntingdon.
Performing can help to teach emotion recognition and expression, as well as eye contact, and ease social interaction, according to the theater's website.
Verbal and picture prompts can be used to lead children from one activity to the next.
Five teachers are on staff, including Szumetz. Some volunteers assist them.
“We wanted to make sure that if we did this that we had the right people. I'm there for any medical issues,” Jackson said.
The theater's six-week summer camp is held on Monday evenings. Fall classes and a holiday production are planned.
Funding has come through yard sales, a coffeehouse and donations to online funding site gofundme.com. The partners intend to pursue grants and aim to keep costs low.
“If I can secure more funding, we'd like to have adaptive equipment for kids with hearing or visual impairments,” Jackson said.
The classes offer students a safe environment where they can develop friendships and boost their self-esteem, said Yaroch, who works with at-risk children.
“We want this to be meaningful and important. We also want it to be fun,” he said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Perfect’ skies draw big crowds to Westmoreland Fair
- Westmoreland County Fair doubles as meet-and-greet for candidates
- Man gets probation for sex with teen girl in New Kensington
- Prison sentence extended for New Kensington man
- Children honor late Ligonier Township officer at Westmoreland Fair
- Ligonier Township equine facility breaks ground
- Greensburg man charged with terroristic threats
- Megan’s List offender charged with assault on 10-year-old Latrobe girl
- Franklin Regional stabbing suspect Hribal to head to adult prison after Oct. 1
- Scottdale man charged in robbery at car wash
- 10-year-old Blairsville violinist’s expulsion over knife challenged