WHITEVILLE — Knocking knees, cold hands, stuttered speech, a fleeting memory and dry mouth are just a few of the symptoms. Three of every four people know too well its source — stage fright or public speaking. But, for a few people in Elizabethtown, those symptoms were the last thing on their minds Friday.
Individuals from Monarch’s Bladen Opportunities Unlimited, a day program in Elizabethtown supporting people with intellectual and developmental disorders, participated in The Passion on Good Friday. The drama told the story of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus and was a joint effort by Bladen Opportunities and Monarch’s sister site in Whiteville, Columbus Industries, who hosted the event.
“The Whiteville site is about twice as big as we are, and they have a theater budget,” explained Damon Heath, program manager at Bladen Opportunities. “We had gone to their Christmas play, which was a new thing for them, and they asked if we wanted to be involved with an Easter play.”
Heath put the word out to the individuals supported at the center, and Montrel, Shelby, and Erika decided to try out their theatrical skills. For six weeks, the three of them made the weekly trip to Whiteville for an all-day practice, where they learned vital concepts.
“The staff are talking to him like a normal person, and they expect him to perform,” said Heath of Montrel’s practices. “The director makes demands of him, and, hopefully, Montrel will surprise himself doing something he didn’t know he could do. For him, it could be a big maturing step, being at the center of everybody depending on him.”
“I’m really proud of him for doing it,” he added in Montrel’s hearing.
“I’m one of the Jesuses,” Montrel announced, “and it’s going to be awesome!”
Family members of the people supported, as well as community members and staff turned out Friday to offer encouragement.
“It was beautiful,” said Ruth, staff member at Bladen Opportunities, of the play. “I think it really boosted their egos and helped them realize what they can do and that they can make a difference. They were just bowing and bowing.”
She added, “There were no blunders at all or any slip ups. They didn’t even use their papers, but had everything down to a T.”
One of the goals of the Bladen Opportunities program is to give the supported individuals opportunities to normalize with residents in meaningful ways, an opportunity seized by the play’s director.
“We would like for the Easter program to become an annual event,” said Michael Lee, program manager at Columbus Industries. “Community functions of this nature are a great way for us to continue our community integration process.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.