from the magazine

Delaney Robertson is a 15-year-old teen from Little Rock that enjoys lifting the spirits of individuals with special needs.

“Every minute is rewarding,” said Robertson, who is a volunteer for the Angels Pageant System, a pageant for individuals with special needs.

“These kids don’t get to feel like they’re incredibly special very often, but when the entire audience starts clapping for them, they get an awesome look on their face. To be beside them while they feel like that is very rewarding.”

Robertson has a history of competing in pageants and won two titles when she was younger. Because of her passion for pageants and love for community service, the Angels Pageant System seemed like the perfect way for her to give back. She often dresses up in her vintage pageant attire and crowns the winner of the Central Arkansas Angels Pageant.

Robertson has been volunteering with the pageant for three years.

Organically, the program, called Arkansas Angels Pageant System, was exclusive to the state. Since Robertson has been involved, it has expanded into 20 states and is now called the Angels Pageant System.

When Robertson got involved, there were about 80 participants. This year there are more than 200 in central Arkansas alone.

The pageant was created in 2010 by the mother of a young girl, Andrea Thorn, who had cerebral palsy. Thorn wanted to participate in pageants, just like her identical twin sister, so their mother created the pageant for individuals with special needs. Thorn passed away when she was 15.
Today, Robertson and the other pageant volunteers have created the “Pay it Forward” campaign in Thorn’s honor to raise awareness about the pageants.

“Anyone from age zero to 99 is able to participate,” Robertson said. “The oldest participant I have met was a little over 70 years old.”

In addition to volunteering with the pageant, Robertson volunteers at Camp Aldersgate and iCAN! Dance.

Robertson helps out with activities and games at Camp Aldersgate’s camps, including weekends during the school year and the weeklong summer camps. She said she enjoys making sure the campers have a good time.
“They get a week that is just about them, and they get to be around kids in society that have the same problems they do,” Robertson said. “They are all the same in one another’s eyes. They get to do things at Camp Aldersgate that ‘quote (unquote)’ normal kids get to do. A lot of times in their life, their disease can define them, but they don’t even have to mention that they have anything different about them when they’re at camp.”

Robertson enjoys giving back to others but has also gained a lot from her volunteerism.

“It lifts me up a lot too,” she said. “I can be in a bad mood and I come back home from camp, and I am not the same person when I come home.”

Robertson also devotes two days a week to iCAN! Dance, a statewide dance program dedicated to children with special needs.

“My dance buddy is Madison, and she has cerebral palsy,” she said. “Madison is one of my favorite people in the entire world. Being her dance buddy is very rewarding and we have fun.”

Robertson would like to continue helping others in the future by becoming an occupational therapist when she gets older.

“I job shadowed an occupational therapist last spring and I loved it; I didn’t want to leave. It would be great to just help others as a job each day,” she said.

Robertson’s mother, Aimee Robertson, is very proud of her daughter’s passion for volunteering.

“I love to see that helping others is what makes my daughter happy,” she said. “There is nothing that makes me more proud as a mom. This is what life is all about. She is smart and beautiful, but best of all, she has a heart of gold.”

The 2014 Central Arkansas Angels Pageant is June 14 at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church. For more details about the pageant system, visit www.angelspageantsystem.com, call 501-412-3994 or e-mail arkansasangelspageant@nullgmail.com.

Deck out the whole house in green this St. Patrick’s Day by making your own decorations. A shamrock garland is easy to make and can be customized with different kinds of paper and ribbon. This craft has several steps with varying difficulty, so it’s fun for leprechauns of all ages.

What You Need

  • Strips of green colored or printed paper (cardstock, construction paper, craft paper, etc.)
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Single hole punch
  • Thumb tacks or tape for hanging

Directions

1. Cut paper into strips about 1.5 inches wide.

Step 1
Step 1

 

2. Fold strips in half, and then curl the sides in to make a heart. Staple to secure. You will need four hearts to make one shamrock. Continue making hearts until you have enough to make five shamrocks (about 20 hearts).

Step 2

Step 2

3. Place the four hearts with the points together on a surface. Place another strip of paper in between the bottom two hearts to make the stem and staple.

Step 3

Step 3

Staple the other hearts together on all sides. Continue until all shamrocks are made. Mix and match paper patterns to create a more rustic look. Trim the stems to your liking.

4. On a flat surface, arrange the shamrocks in the order you want them on the garland.

5. Punch holes along the tops of the shamrocks. Thread ribbon through the holes to string up the shamrocks. Note: You may need to punch several holes together to make a bigger space for the ribbon.

The St. Patrick’s Day garland is ready to hang and enjoy!

This craft has been adapted from the “Easy St. Patrick’s Day Banner” tutorial posted at The Crafting Chicks (www.thecraftingchicks.com). It was re-created for Savvy Kids by Patrick Jones and Erica Sweeney.

Carissa Lynne Garner is a 10-year-old who is driven to help others who are less fortunate.

“Since I was little I have always been wheel-chaired,” said Garner, who was born with spina bifida.

“When I was born, they didn’t think I would be able to walk or talk. I want to be able to help people that don’t have homes and that can’t afford things like food and cars and who don’t have much money.”

Garner of Lonoke has a passion for volunteering for the Salvation Army. Her mom, Pamela Garner, remembers Carissa asking for money to give the Salvation Army every holiday season, even when she was very young. When she was 8, she began ringing the bell for the Salvation Army during the holidays.

“Every year at Wal-Mart they ring the bell for Christmas,” Carissa Garner said. “I always asked my mom for money to put in the bucket, then I told my mom a few years ago that I wanted to start ringing the bell. My mom called the Salvation Army and checked on it. They said I could, so she made it happen.”

Garner rings the bell an average of five times a year and plans to continue for many years to come. She hopes to expand her philanthropic work by feeding those in need through the Salvation Army.

In addition to volunteering with the Salvation Army, Garner created a nonprofit organization, called Carissa Lynne’s Special Blessings Ministry.

The organization was designed to help anyone with special needs who cannot afford assistive devices and additional assistive services. “Carissa Lynne’s Special Blessings Ministry is changing hearts one smile at a time by providing various assistive devices, services and service dogs to persons, especially children, with special needs regardless of their individual physical abilities,” the organization’s website states.

“I got my service dog, ZoZo, this past fall and I have wanted one since I was three,” Garner said. “Service dogs cost a lot of money. My mom said to keep waiting and when it was the right time God would provide one, and he did. Now I want to help kids like me get a service dog if they need one.”

ZoZo was donated by an organization called Duckhill Kennels in Tennessee.

Garner has a form of epilepsy and has seizures. She also uses a walker to get around, so ZoZo has been a big help with everyday tasks, like opening doors and turning on lights, and also alerts others if an emergency, like a seizure, occurs.

“Carissa Lynne told me one day that she wanted to do something to help other kids like her get service dogs,” Pamela Garner said. “In response to her desire, Carissa Lynne’s Special Blessings Ministry began. My motto that I always tell Carissa is ‘God always answers prayer.’”

Carissa Lynne’s Special Blessings Ministry will host the first-ever PawFour Golf Tournament on April 28 at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock. The money raised will benefit those in need of special services that are unable to afford them. For more information about the organization, to make a donation or participate in the tournament, email pamelagarner@nullcarissalynne.org or call 501-266-3738.

Filmmaking is a creative way for people of all ages to explore meaningful topics and express themselves. Young filmmakers in the state can tackle their own cinematic visions by submitting their work to the Arkansas Educational Television Network’s 2014 Student Selects: A Young Filmmaker’s Showcase. Read More…

 

Riley Strube is a 10-year-old from Cabot who has a passion for helping children with special needs. Each week she participates in ICAN! Dance, a program specifically designed for special needs children.

“I am a ‘big buddy’ to a 6-year-old named Londyn Giles,” Riley said. “My ‘little buddy’ has autism and each week I help her learn dance techniques and we have fun.”

ICAN! Dance is a statewide program founded by Julie Mayberry, whose daughter, Katie, has spinal bifida. Mayberry serves as the director for the program, which currently has over 50 “buddies” in Arkansas.

Strube has been involved with ICAN! Dance at Centre Stage in Sherwood for four years. There are seven “little buddies” that participate at Centre Stage. Boys and girls ages 4-17 may participate.

“My favorite part about ICAN! Dance is coming into the studio and watching the girls with their smiling faces,” she said. “The girls come together and learn dance experience, make friends and the ‘big buddies’ can grow and learn from the ‘little buddies’ as well.”

The program at Centre Stage lasts 10 weeks. At the end of the program, the class performs a recital. Classes also perform at the Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas Pageant, Riverfest, local churches, Christmas parties and the Greek Food Fest. Annually, there is a statewide recital for all ICAN! Dance participants.

“The ICAN! Dance program is the highlight of the week at my studio,” said Andrea Strube, Centre Stage owner and Riley’s mom.

“I love that my daughter, Riley, and the other ‘big buddies’ get the opportunity to learn from their ‘little buddies.’ Riley has learned how to interact with all kinds of people through this program and she has learned how truly special that special needs kids really are. Riley has even learned some sign language by interacting with one of the ‘little buddies.’”

In addition to participating in ICAN! Dance, Riley had the idea to sell bracelets as a fundraiser for The Crossing at Angel Court in Little Rock, which will be the first fully accessible and inclusive public park in central Arkansas. It will be located next to the ICAN! Arts and ResourceCenter in Little Rock.

“I wanted to help with the playground and decided to raise money for it because it will help the kids with special needs, like my ‘little buddy,’” Riley Strube said.

She and Mayberry designed the bracelets together on a website. They chose the colors for a special reason.

“We picked the colors because they reminded us of playing outside,” Strube said. “We also picked the words for the bracelets. We thought of a lot of ideas but when we came up with ICAN Play! I knew it was the right choice.”

Since the end of October, Strube has raised more than $700 for the playground’s construction. She encourages businesses to get involved if they are interested in selling the bracelets for the cause.

Riley is a young girl who is making a big difference in her community and sets a good example for all. In addition to ICAN! Dance, she participates in Student Council and Builder’s Club at Cabot Middle School South. She also enjoys sewing and cooking.

“As a studio owner, it is super neat to see families come together through the ICAN! Dance program,” Andrea Strube said. “It is amazing to see the reaction from parents of special needs kids when their children participate in the dances. They get to see their kids on stage during a recital and often think they won’t ever get to experience that as a parent. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

 

The ICAN! Dance program is offered throughout the state. For more information about this program and other recreational activities for children with special needs, visit www.com or call 501-329-5459. To purchase ICAN Play! bracelets, call 501-425-3361.

Get crafty this Valentine’s Day and make your own cards with a little special surprise. Honey sticks, pencils and candy attached to paper hearts with a personalized message make great Valentines for classmates, teachers and grandparents. This project is simple enough for even the littlest ones to make.

Supplies Needed

  • red and pink card stock or construction paper
  • scissors
  • tape
  • pencil for tracing
  • honey sticks, pixie sticks, pencils or other stick candies to use as arrows

Directions

  1. Use a piece of construction paper to cut out two heart shapes. Cut one bigger and one a little smaller. The easiest way to do this is by folding the piece of paper in half, and then cutting half a heart. You can use these two hearts as your stencils.
  2. Use your heart stencils to trace out heart shapes on your card stock or construction paper. You will need one smaller heart and one larger heart for each card.
  3. When you have all your hearts cut out, take the smaller hearts and cut two slits in each of them. You can fold the heart in half to do this.
  4. Slide the candy sticks or pencils through the slits you cut in the hearts.
  5. Use leftover card stock or construction paper to cut out triangles for the points of the arrow and feathers for the end of the arrow. Have fun and try cutting out different styles of points and feathers.
  6. Tape the arrow points and feathers onto the arrows, and then tape the smaller hearts onto the larger hearts. Ta da!
  7. Use a pen or sharpie to add a note to your Valentine. “Bee My Valentine” is a cute message for cards with honey sticks.

XOXO

Long about early January, if all goes according to schedule, a new little Bell will claw his or her way out into the world, squinting and screaming and covered in clear goo, wondering what in the heck just happened.

I say “his or her” because we don’t know if we’re having a boy or girl. This was a conscious decision on our part not because we’re cheapskates and wanted to save a few bucks, but because we figured how many more opportunities will we get for such a major (and pleasant) surprise? Who knows? Probably not too many.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been explaining or attempting to explain to our 2-year-old that there’s a baby in Mama’s tummy, and soon that baby will come out and he’ll be a big brother. He usually gives me a kind of suspicious look, like, “OK dad, whatever you say.” Nonetheless, I’m convinced that he grasps this concept on some level, but really who in the heck knows. He’s 2, after all.

We asked him if it’s going to be a boy baby or a girl baby and without any hesitation he said, “Boy!” We asked him what this baby’s name is going to be (since we haven’t decided on one yet, we thought what the heck) and again, without a moment’s pause and with absolute certainty, he responded: “Bison.”

Ooookaaaay…

So we’ve been referring to this child as Bison, which must be confusing to anyone who might overhear our conversations at the grocery store: “We need to make sure to buy lots of infant-size diapers and some Boudreaux’s Butt Paste for Bison.” Or: “Ow, man! Bison is really kicking the crap out of my right hip!”

I told a buddy of mine about this whole Bison thing and he pointed out that Bison Bell is most certainly a name fit for the leader of some kind of post-apocalyptic militia warrior group. I was forced to concur.

Anyway, regardless of what name we settle on, things are about to get very real.

I mean, we’ve had a child for more than two years now, but as Bill Cosby pointed out, you’re not really a parent until you have more than one. Or as one of my in-laws’ friends reminded us recently: “Just remember, it never really adds up. Having one is like having one but having two is like having five.”

Fantastic.

In some ways though, maybe it will be easier having two kids. Or, you know, not “easier” in the “literal” or “dictionary definition” of the word, but just more streamlined. Maybe we won’t have time to overanalyze things or freak out unduly. We’ll be forced to prioritize and apply a triage approach to each day’s problems.

When you’ve only got one kid, every single worry or disaster that comes up is a brand new worry or disaster that you’ve never faced before and is directly related to the well-being of your most precious little one. On the second go around, perhaps one is less inclined to totally obsess over every little bump or scrape or hiccup.

With the first one, we were all, “What’s this rash?”

“I don’t know!”

“Oh my God! Should we go to the emergency room?”

“I don’t know! Let’s get the baby book!”

Whereas with the second one maybe we’ll be more like, “What’s this rash?

“That?”

“Yeah.”

“Eh, I don’t know. It’s probably nothing, just put some Boudreaux’s Butt Paste on it and then get in here and help me with dinner.”

So I think we’ll get through this alright, but ask me again in a few weeks and I’ll let you know how my theory panned out.

Another holiday season is behind us, and while it might feel like a great time to take it easy, there are many fun, family-friendly arts and culture activities coming up. Most of central Arkansas’s museums and attractions hold regular (and, often free) events for kids year-round. There are also some special annual events. As the new year progresses, more details and events will surely be announced, but here’s a little preview of what to expect in the coming months.

 

Arkansas Arts Center

 

In conjunction with its Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade, Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge and Face to Face: Artists’ Self-Portraits from the Collection of Jackye and Curtis Finch, Jr. exhibits, the ArkansasArtsCenter is hosting a Family Festival: Rothko’s Colors and Perfect Portraits on Jan. 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The event is free for members, $5 per nonmembers and $20 per nonmember family.

Upcoming Children’s Theatre performances include “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type” on Jan. 24 to Feb. 9, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” on March 7-28 and “Sleeping Beauty” on April 25 to May 11. Tickets are $12.50.

A two-day Spring Break workshop for ages 6-9 will also be held in tandem with “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” on March 24-25, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students will experience painting, printmaking, clay, paper maché and other art mediums, and see a performance of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Tuition is $116 for members and $145 for nonmembers and includes the cost of materials and admission to the play. Registration ends March 17. Space fills up fast.

For more information about these events and programs, visit www.arkarts.com or call 501-372-4000.

 

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks IV: Bohemian Rhapsody, with special guest pianist Norman Krieger, is Jan. 25-26. Shows are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at RobinsonCenterMusic Hall. Tickets are $14-$53, but kids can get free admission to the Sunday performance with a paid adult. Another show is the Pops Series III: Best of Broadway on Feb. 15-16.

The Intimate Neighborhood Concerts Series I: Bohemian Festival will be held at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $29. The River Rhapsodies Chamber Series: Dvorak’s Piano Trio will be Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Clinton Presidential Center Great Hall. Tickets are $23.

Call 501-666-1761 or visit www.arkansassymphony.org for more details about these performances.

 

Heifer Village

HeiferVillage hosts free monthly interactive events, called Heifer Hour. They are held on the second Saturday of each month, from January to May. On Jan. 11, the theme will be “Not a Cup But a Cow,” and youngsters will learn about how a cow can change a family’s lives forever and about milk-giving animals through a game, called “How Much Milk?” On Feb. 8, kids can create their own pop-up books and learn about Heifer International’s first shipment of 17 heifers at “17 Cows and Counting.”

Beyond Hunger: Communities of Change, a celebration of how communities change the world, is March 22, featuring activities for all ages and a visit from a Heifer Ranch ambassador. The Spring Fling 2014 is March 24-29. Kids can spend Spring Break at HeiferVillage and make crafts and take part in scavenger hunts.

Visit www.heifer.org or call (501) 907-8800 for details.

 

Museum of Discovery

The Museum of Discovery’s Robots + Us exhibit wraps up on Jan. 26, and a new one begins on Feb. 8. TechCity highlights the engineering it takes to make a city work, and runs through May 11. The museum will also host African Rhythms, by African drum master Zinse Aggine, on Feb. 20-22.

The museum’s Spring Break with Sid the Science Kid is March 27-28, and is a partnership with AETN. Kids can also learn about nanoscience with fun and interactive stations across the museum at NanoDays on April 24-26.

Museum admission is $10 for adults, and $8 for ages 12 and younger and seniors 60 and over. For more information, call 501-376-7050 or visit www.museumofdiscovery.org.

Old State House Museum

The Old State House Museum hosts free monthly Little Beginnings Toddler Programs for children ages 2 to 4 accompanied by a parent. Each month the class highlights a different topic and promotes learning through hands-on activities, music making, movement and storytelling. Programs will be held on Jan. 15, Feb. 19 and March 19 from 10:30 to 11 a.m. On Feb. 8, there will also be a Valentine Fair, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Call (501) 324-9685 or visit www.oldstatehouse.com for more information.

 

Wildwood Park for the Arts

The LANTERNS! Festival is scheduled for Feb. 14-16, beginning at 6 p.m. each night. This year’s festival is held in conjunction with the first full moon of the lunar year and the Chinese New Year. Visitors can walk along paved pathways lit by fire pits and luminaries, and enjoy entertainment representing eight cultural experiences around the world, including Mexico, eastern Europe, Shakespearean England and more. There will be games and other activities.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12 and free for kids 5 and younger. For more information, visit www.wildwoodpark.org.

Abbey Fletcher, a Conway teen, knows the importance of giving back and community involvement. Fletcher is a 16-year-old junior from Conway High School who is involved with organizations, including the United Way, Children’s Advocacy Alliance (CAA) and City of Hope Outreach (CoHo).

Fletcher got involved with the United Way eight years ago through her mother Tess Fletcher, who is executive director for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, which closely works with the United Way. CAA oversees Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), which conducts interviews for sexually and physically abused children.

“I enjoy volunteering for these organizations because they have it set up very conveniently for people to get involved since they are partner agencies,” Abbey Fletcher said. “The organizations are basically a family tree. They are all linked together and it makes it very easy for people to hear about all of the organizations at once.”

Fletcher’s volunteer work for the United Way ranges from large projects to smaller assignments, and she attends most of their events.

“After school, I do a lot of office work,” she said. “I do the little things, which are actually some of the most important things.”

In addition to extracurricular community involvement, Fletcher participates in many organizations at Conway High, including Cradle Care, Spanish Club, Honorary Spanish Club, Beta Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Key Club and Caring Cats.

“Cradle Care is a daycare next to Conway High,” she said. “It is for children of teen parents and it helps the parents get through high school. It not only gives the parents a chance but it is good for the children who attend Cradle Care as well. I have been involved with Cradle Care for about six years.”

After school, Fletcher volunteers with City of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit that provides low-income students with free tutoring, access to computers and snacks.

Fletcher serves as secretary for her school’s Key Club and has played a major role in getting the club involved with United Way. She hopes that the two organizations continue to work together.

“I am a compulsive helper,” she said. “I have a teacher’s spirit and love to help others. I am also good at marketing, developing plans and following through by putting them into action. I over think most things, and I think this will help me in my career.”

Appropriately, Fletcher’s favorite quote is “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” by Mahatma Gandhi.

As a teenager, Fletcher seems to grasp that there is a bigger picture to life and why giving back is important. Her supportive family has been one of the main reasons that she has been given the opportunity to help others and why her passion continues to grow.

“I’ve always encouraged Abbey to volunteer because I believe in helping others and giving back to your community,” Tess Fletcher said. “Abbey has always volunteered with the agency I work for but I encourage her to volunteer at other places because I want her to fully understand the needs of the community she lives in. Imagine what our quality of life would be if everyone woke up each morning and chose to make a difference in someone’s life that day.”

The United Way’s mission is to advance the common good. For more information about the organization, or to get involved or donate locally, visit www.unitedwaycentralark.org.

Though his parents have always instilled a sense of service to the community, 13-year-old Alex Galbraith has taken it to the next level.

By early November, the eighth-grader had already completed 13 of the 15 services hours required this semester for his Leadership and Service Learning class at Maumelle Middle School. But even before taking the class, Galbraith has been an active volunteer.

He has taught Sunday school classes and vacation Bible school at his church, First United Methodist in Maumelle. He has also volunteered at the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and played piano for residents at Audubon Pointe, an apartment complex in Maumelle for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Galbraith says he signed up for Leadership and Service Learning this semester because he saw the class as an “opportunity to do more in the community.”

“It’s a great opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “I’m proud of myself. It feels good to help.”

To complete his service hours, Galbraith has continued volunteering at the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center and doing service projects with his church. One project involved cleaning out the house of an elderly couple, who had recently moved into an assisted living facility. He says the experience was challenging but fun.

Kristin Herring, Galbraith’s Leadership and Service Learning teacher, says the class is about encouraging students to be leaders and to find ways to serve their community.

“They learn so many things that they can’t learn in a classroom,” she says.

Herring says her class is also a jump-start for students in receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award, and Galbraith is an ideal candidate. He plans to go beyond the 15-hour requirement and work toward the award, which requires a minimum of 50 service hours.

“Alex is a leader,” she says. “He always takes the lead and is a great teacher and communicator.”

In addition to the volunteer hours required for the class, students must choose a service project that benefits the school, Herring says.

For his school-related project, Galbraith, a piano and trumpet player in his school band, has devoted his time to teaching and encouraging sixth-grade beginner trumpeters. He says he loves music and teaching others, so he saw an opportunity to help.

Galbraith is a member of his school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Future Business Leaders of America and the National Junior Honor Society. For fun, he says he enjoys reading, especially the Harry Potter and Alex Rider series.

Russ and Aimee Galbraith, Alex’s parents, couldn’t be prouder of their son. They say volunteering helps all young people become better aware of the world around them and to look beyond themselves.

The Galbraiths say that a sense of service is essential and something that they have always taught Alex, especially that even doing something small can have huge impact.

“The amount of time you spend is not much in the scheme of things,” Russ Galbraith says.

Alex Galbraith loves meeting new people and looking for ways to help the community. He says these opportunities – both big and small – are abundant: “you just have to look.”

At 14 years old, Julia Nightingale Landfair has a theatrical resume more impressive than some actors twice her age. First appearing at Arkansas Repertory Theatre at a mere 8 years old as young Cosette in “Les Miserables,” Landfair has won not only the hearts of Arkansas audiences, but now a leading role in the world premiere of “Because of Winn Dixie,” the musical.

“Because of Winn Dixie,” a musical theater version of the award-winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, follows the story of 10-year-old Opal and her companion, an Irish Wolfhound found at the Winn Dixie supermarket. The world premiere, set to take place at The Rep on Dec. 4-29, brings a Tony Award-winning team to Little Rock.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Landfair says of working with the team. “I’m still taking all of it in. It’s so surreal.”

The production features music by Duncan Sheik, lyrics and book by Nell Benjamin, direction by John Tartaglia and animal direction by Bill Berloni. According to Nicole Capri, director of education and the Summer Musical Theater Intensive at The Rep, having a world premiere with such an accredited team is something they don’t take for granted.

“It’s game-changing for a regional theater to have the opportunity to produce a show that will more than likely hit the Broadway boards,” Capri says. “It’s extremely affirming to our creative and producing staff and our audience that Arkansas Rep does really excellent work.”

It isn’t something Landfair takes for granted either. She attributes this opportunity and her success in theater to Capri, The Rep and the annual Summer Musical Theater Intensive.

“This summer was my fifth year to participate in The Rep’s SMTI program,” she says. “I think that being part of this family is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Nicole Capri has pushed me to my limits at times, but I couldn’t thank her enough. I honestly wouldn’t be anywhere near here if it weren’t for her help and love.”

The SMTI has a history of producing high quality performers, many who have gone on to careers in New York City. Annual auditions in February typically see 400-500 youth competing for 100 spots. When Landfair auditioned, she already knew Capri from her work in “Les Miserables,” which is an encounter Capri can’t forget.

“She came into auditions wearing a red tutu and wheelies sneakers,” Capri says. “She looked like a perfectly decorated cupcake. She and I got on the ground together and worked on the story behind the song ‘Castle on a Cloud.’ The whole room was in tears by the time she was done. She processes like a pro years beyond her age.”

Landfair, Capri and the entire crew at The Rep are looking forward to the premiere of “Because of Winn Dixie” and what it means for the future of the theater and the future of bright young stars like Landfair.

“Since I stepped foot in The Rep, everyone has been so kind and helpful,” Landfair says. “We really are one big family. The people there have watched me grow up and they have influenced my life so much.”

For more information on “Because of Winn Dixie” or to purchase tickets, visit www.TheRep.org or call the box office at (501) 378-0405.