Jummel Hidrosollo / Special to the Home News
Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008 | midnight
For more information about Life Long Dreams, call Tshlene Henreid at 979-4642 or Cathy Warriner at 655-4908.
Megan Rosener loves to sing, dance and act — but they're fairly new pursuits.
She suffered a stroke when she was born and lives with cerebral palsy, Attention Deficit Disorder and seizures. And Hollywood and Broadway don't offer a lot of roles for children with special needs.
Then her mother, Yogi Rosener, heard about Life Long Dreams, a free program that gives children with physical and learning disabilities their moment in the spotlight.
Megan, 14 of Desert Shores, was initially hesitant to be on stage because her impairments left her feeling like an outsider. But as two of her fellow teen performers held her hand and led her on stage at her first performance with the group, Megan's inner diva came out.
"Her self confidence has just exploded," Yogi said. "She was the last one to raise her hand. She's raising her hand at school now. She does choir. She's volunteering to do projects. She would never do this before."
Megan's transformation into a performer and socialite took only a few months.
Life Long Dreams gives children with physical and learning disabilities the chance to show off their hidden talents on stage. But as the founders, parents and teachers say it also gives the children a boost to their self esteem and perhaps a career in film, television and the stage.
Cathy Warriner and Tshlene Henreid started the group last December. Warriner is the mother of a son with Down syndrome and Henreid was a professional dancer.
At the peak of her career, Henreid was struck with rheumatoid arthritis that forced her into a wheelchair for four years.
Life took a turn but not for the worse, she said.
Henreid worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles for 11 years before moving to Las Vegas last year. Within six months, she had organized a talent show for children with chronic health conditions and special needs called Wish Upon a Star.
That's when she met Warriner and the two were inspired by the enthusiasm and stage presence of the performers.
"I wanted people to know that no matter what, no matter what special need or challenge you have that it's here in our hearts and our minds if we want to overcome something. We don't have to be great at it, we just need to do what we love," Henreid said.
Henreid recently founded Cypress Entertainment Co. to represent special needs children using her Hollywood connections.
"We need to get that industry a little more open minded because they can act," she said.
Warriner's 18-year-old son Zach appears as an extra in Disney's High School Musical 3. He met the film's stars, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, in a private interview.
Before he could talk, Zach could hum 50 songs by heart, Cathy said. He learned to play the piano and trumpet by ear and sings constantly at home.
"After watching him on stage, I realized he's a totally different person. He transforms from having Down syndrome to just being an entertainer," she said.
Henreid would like to grow the nonprofit organization to include a touring group and open up franchises worldwide so every child has a chance to realize their stage dreams.
The group has about 20 children now, though not all have disabilities.
Silverado resident Theresa Vance said her 14-year-old daughter Jessica was a typical teenage drama queen slowly realizing the world didn't revolve around her. Then she joined Life Long Dreams to have the ability to perform outside of school programs and now helps out more at home and in school.
Jessica was one of two of the normal functioning teens that helped Megan Rosener overcome her stage fright.
"It's been such an eye opening experience to see my child helping these children without any reservations and without any prejudgments or prejudices," Theresa Vance said. "She's always had a big heart but her heart has just opened up more. She's learned that she's not just a special child, that there are other kids out there that have more obstacles in life but can do just the same things that she can just as well if not better."
For Jessica, it's the first step toward Broadway.
And Megan, an eighth grader, wants to attend the Las Vegas Academy next year.
The group meets every Saturday at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel, 2555 N. Jones Blvd., for an hour of singing and an hour of dance practice.
The choreography also works as a form of physical therapy and singing is akin to speech therapy for some of the children.
"These children do not have the same opportunities as normal functioning children. I'm sure a music teacher in a school that had a choir full of kids would be happy to welcome them but they would not be able to get the kind of one-on-one attention that they get in this program," said Stephanie Thompson, vocal coach. "This program is all about them."
The Life Long Dreams performers are scheduled to sing and dance at a Shoes for Children fundraiser Dec. 13 and the next day at a fundraiser for themselves. The second show was organized by local musician Phil Flowers, who is also giving the children a chance to record an album of original music.
The group is searching for more young stars, with or without disabilities, and community support to make their dreams real.
Jeff Pope can be reached at 990-2688 or [email protected].