I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago that Alexis has had some significant moments over the last several months. One of my favorite (and hers) was getting to participate in “The Penguin Project” at the Lincoln Community Playhouse.

Inspired by both his pediatric practice and his love of theatre, The Penguin Project is the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Morgan of Peoria, Illinois. Because of their physical nature, penguins are the only bird species that can’t fly…hence the connection to the special needs kids that make up the cast of every Penguin Project production- “Our penguins may not be able to fly, but that does not prevent their spirits from soaring.”

What the Penguin Project allows is exactly that- an ability to soar. The concept is to take children with any sort of disability and pair them with a mentor who guides them through an entire theatre production. The kids practice for 4 months, starting with just one practice a week and then transitioning to 5 days a week of practice that lasts for several hours leading up to the play. The Lincoln Community Playhouse was the first theatre outside of Peoria to give this a try- and it was amazing!

Alexis started rehearsals for the production of Annie Jr. in February, where they began learning the songs and actions. Alexis had two mentors who are friends of our family and have experience in theatre productions, Emily and Campbell Sharpe. Not only did they help Alexis learn her lines and actions to the songs…but they were also responsible for getting her around the stage safely. They helped her walk and kept her right arm under control-not always an easy feat.


She was so excited to get to go through the full process of being in a production, including casting . She was thrilled to get the call of being offered the role of the orphan “Molly”. What was even better was that this would be performed on the big stage at the Lincoln Community Playhouse…something she has always wanted to do.

Going into the last week, things were looking pretty rough. There were kids who didn’t know any of their lines, a few outbursts backstage, and some kids that wouldn’t even go on stage. Between costumes, microphones, and staging…”Tech Sunday” rehearsal lasted almost 7 hours! As a parent watching, it wasn’t a big deal. I would venture to say that it was going to be “enough” for most of us to see our kids perform- and to be a part of something so special.

The transformation over the next 5 days was nothing short of incredible. We went to the SOLD OUT performance all three days, and for the most part it was flawless. Disabilities went unnoticed and mentors disappeared into the background. Chalk it up to the magic of theatre and the inspiration of an audience all you want…but I say that all of these kids possess a power much stronger and beyond any of that.

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There are very few things about these kids lives that are easy. Standing up in front of hundreds of people is a daunting task.

The most amazing part was after watching the play run through dozens of times, I began to feel as much pride for every other kid in the play as a I felt for Alexis. Seeing parents literally in tears with pride because their child was able to deliver a handful of lines on stage, was one of the most heartwarming things I have ever experienced.

This was our children netting the winning goal, making the dance team or winning the spelling bee. And it was absolutely amazing.

Every practice and performance concluded with the kids dancing and singing The Penguin Project’s theme song- the Glee version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. But this was more than a cheesy 80’s ballad, it was what everyone in the play and their parents learned over four months- with these kids you can never stop believing.



Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.