Posted on Apr. 30, 2014 (
The Celebration of Our Stars contains the elements of every talent show. Proud families and friends, adorable kids, camera phone flashes and applause. But this talent show is different. It belongs to the children at Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit (CTU).
These kids have special needs and have come far to walk, sing and dance on the stage.
Occupational Therapist Joyce Vipond and Physical Therapist Sara Kerrick started Celebration of Our Stars eight years ago. They wanted the CTU kids to have a place to be praised and recognized.
The therapists also wanted to bring families together to show them how much their children were valued by other people.
Austin Darr, 17 and a sophomore at Emerald Ridge High School, has participated in every show since the beginning. Vipond remembers his first.
“He was backstage and his face lit up when he heard people cheering for the other kids,” Vipond said. “He walked out on that stage and loved it. He was so excited to be out there with people watching and clapping for him.”
Austin’s parents, Paula and Corey, were excited about Celebration of Our Stars the moment they learned about it.
“Our son hasn’t been able to do sports or after school activities. He never had anything that was just his,” Paula Darr said. “He finally has his own thing. We can celebrate his successes with our friends and family.”
In past years Austin showed his progress with walking across the stage. This year was different. Austin and his friend Omar catapulted fabric fish at one another.
Austin met Omar at therapy. The boys quickly became friends. Now they look for each other and express excitement when they meet.
“It’s a big deal,” Austin’s dad, Corey Darr, said. “He is connecting with another kid.”
At the show, Austin gazed at Omar across the stage, moving his hand back and forth over the button to catapult the fish. Omar laughed as he waited for his friend to push the button and throw the fish. Austin moved his hand close to the button and away several times, glancing at the audience and at Omar.
“Now you’re just teasing him,” Vipond said.
Austin finally pressed the button and sent a fabric fish flying across the stage at Omar. The crowd erupted with applause and laughter.
Austin’s therapy began at the CTU when he was two. The initial focus was motor skills. When he was 10, Vipond changed the focus to social communication. That was in the spring. The next fall when Austin returned to school his teachers noticed a difference.
“The teachers called from school and said â€˜What happened?’ What did you do differently?,” Vipond said. “He was engaging in the classroom. It was a major change from the spring.”
Paula Darr remembers the first time he threw a temper tantrum. For a child unable to express himself, the Darr family celebrated.
“He had an opinion. We clapped for that,” Paula said.
The big picture, Vipond explains, isn’t just about Austin.
“He can’t talk but he can communicate with his family,” she said. “That impact is hard to describe and quantify but it makes a huge difference in the life of a family.”
Paula calls the CTU team an extended part of the Darr family. They aren’t just there for the kids, they support the families as coaches, cheerleaders and therapists.
“The CTU is a wonderful place where kids are accepted, loved unconditionally and supported by people who want them to be the best they can be,” Paula said. “These kids are capable of doing some pretty special and extraordinary things. “
The Celebration of Our Stars is a series of moments celebrating the special and extraordinary accomplishments of the CTU kids. From flying fish to singing and karate demonstrations, in every moment it feels like you are part of the most special thing on the planet.