Performing Pals

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“Performing Pals,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 69

Performing Pals

When Marion “Tanny” Peters, who at the time was foster mother of eleven-year-old mentally disabled Mandy Hill, asked community-theater owner and operator Mark Shipley to consider including disabled children in his music and drama workshops, Brother Shipley agreed even though he had no previous special-needs teaching experience.

The first day with Mandy was a challenge for Brother Shipley, but Sister Peters contributed her insight and experience gained from years of teaching children with special needs. Word soon got around, and demand became strong enough that Brother Shipley formed a separate special-needs theater class.

In 1989, however, health problems helped convince Mark, his wife, Jeanne, and their six children—all of whom had been involved in the theater—to slow down their hectic pace and seek a change of lifestyle. They decided to move from Rancho Cucamonga, California, to Provo, Utah.

The Shipleys wondered how they would tell Sister Peters about their move. To their surprise, she came to them first with the news that she would soon be moving to Orem, the city adjacent to Provo. A warm feeling flowed as they realized that their fledgling special-needs theater program would be able to continue.

The PALS (Performing Artists Lengthening Strides) program now teaches special-needs theater classes in several cities along Utah’s Wasatch Front. The PALS youngsters regularly perform their own unique variety show at school, church, and community programs, and they have performed at Brigham Young University’s Especially for Youth and Education Week events.

“There has been no other challenge in my life to equal this,” says Brother Shipley. “Our capacity for understanding and love increases daily. More than coincidence was involved in getting this program together.”

Photo by Reece Christensen