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  • Melinda Lackey

“A Parent for Every Child”

I am moved to write about a magnificent event that my husband and I attended earlier this summer at the St. James Theater, in New York City. It was a fundraiser for You Gotta Believe, Inc (YGB).

YGB is the only agency in New York City that focuses exclusively on finding permanent families for teens and young adults in foster care.

The whole show came together in just over a month, from idea to performance, thanks to Seth Rudestsky and James Wesley, a couple waiting to adopt an older youth from foster care. When they heard that ACS (Administration for Children Services) was defunding the services provided by YGB, they tapped into their own resources (one a composer, music director, author and radio show host; the other a Broadway singer, actor, playwright and producer). Brilliantly harnessing some tremendous passion to right a wrong, they assembled an incredible cast of Broadway performers, musicians, comedians and TV stars, not to mention a theater, and they did what performers do best.

Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski

Photo Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Actor Darren Criss performs on stage during Voices For The Voiceless: Stars For Foster Kids

Photo Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The event was moving on many levels.

It delivered a powerful emotional connection—an inkling of what it might be like not having a parental figure you can count on from youth through young adulthood; someone to whom you can turn for support, empathy, guidance, protection; someone to join you in celebrating your joys, however small or large. For those of us who have been blessed with any semblance of family, it is difficult to fathom this life-long void.

With the support of a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation whose grant-making puts children first, my organization ( has been working closely with the leaders of You Gotta Believe for two years, in a non-profit coaching role. So it really took me by surprise to experience whole new dimensions of empathy – as young people stepped courageously onto a Broadway stage to share something of their life experiences.

Jasmine, a recent High School graduate, explained what it would mean to her right now, at age 19, to find a “forever home.” With the promise of further schooling around the corner, “I have a lot to celebrate with somebody,” Jasmine attested. “I also have questions. I may be 19 but I could really use the help of somebody dependable in my life to share my joys and be with me in these turning points.”

The gravity of Jasmine’s story—how family can never come too late to anyone’s life—was compounded by several performers who “came out” about their own foster care backgrounds, before shifting to convey their emotions through song.

As a former dancer, married to an actor, I have often shared with my non-profit client partners what it’s like to be in a Broadway show, namely what happens when theater people come together with a common vision. A team is assembled of performers, musicians, a director, choreographer, composer, lyricist, set designer, lighting designer, stage manager, stage hands, producers, a theater owner. Each brings a discrete skill set to the mix. The “book” or script represents their vision and it triggers everyone to self-organize in a way that elicits more and more from each person, the very best that each has to offer. The show relies on the fullness of each contributor’s excellence. It is the creative mix, the collective alignment of talents that brings the story to life.

Magic happens, in just this way, eight shows per week on Broadway.

This is precisely what needs to occur in organizations, coalitions and networks that mobilize in response to life-crushing social problems. When a shared vision is coupled with the practice of eliciting every “voice” in skillfully orchestrated action for the greater good, all things are possible.

This Broadway benefit for You Gotta Believe brought my worlds together. The vision—a parent for every youth—was powerfully articulated by youth whose harsh lived experience has yielded real wisdom to inform better systems. Their vision was injected into the audience with music.

Indeed magic happened.


To learn about YGB visit their website and contact Susan Grundberg:

YGB Youth and Young Adult Leaders, Janice Huff and Full Cast - Getty Images.

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