Hope Academy's annual holiday program is over ... and my heart is full. In a single hour, a multitude of celebrations unfolded.
The opening welcome was handled by four of our alumni, the first group from Hope Academy to be graduating from high school, which includes my older son, Rixon. Although each of these seniors moved from our program into different high schools, all of them have made their mark - taking honors and AP classes, participating in the arts and sports, holding leadership positions. After four years, they remain friends, eager to come back to recognize the impact of Hope Academy on their lives.
One of our current 8th graders, a leader with a quiet disposition who had opted to be the stage manager so that he would not have a speaking part, made a surprise request to do our opening prayer. He wrote a heartfelt, eloquent message and prayed it with conviction.
The preschoolers sang with gusto, the children with autism positioned next to friends who stood ready to help. Parents of the children with autism marveled to see them smiling into an audience of nearly 300. Parents of "typical" students had tears in their eyes as they watched their children befriend their peers who were unsure about what to do.
One of our 3rd graders with autism, who often speaks too softly to be heard, proclaimed his lines into the microphone with poise, waiting for the applause to die down before delivering his next words.
A 1st grader with autism, who started with us this year with the expectation that we might not hear her speak for months, joined her class on stage and spoke clearly into the microphone, breaking into an angelic grin!
A 2nd grader who has struggled with anxiety laid her fears aside and took charge of her friend with autism, handling the microphone for him and guiding him off the stage.
In a beautiful blend of traditions, one 2nd grader wearing his yarmulke explained the significance of the menorah. His friend, garbed as an angel, discussed the creche.
The 1st graders belted out "Frosty the Snowman," arms linked as they swayed back and forth, a plan they devised on their own to help their classmate with autism who was unable to stand in place.
One student on the autism spectrum was placed in charge of the light system, handling 26 different light changes all by himself. Another managed four costume changes and brought down the house with his comedic role. My younger son, Colby, performed the role of a doctor, for the first time in 7 years speaking lines that could be understood by the audience without benefit of written prompts.
Truly a celebration of hope!