The question is, how can tottering folks from the “Shady Acres Retirement Home,” attempting to do precision drill-team formations complete with walkers, crutches and canes, help developmentally challenged kids who vitally need therapy services throughout Florida?
That’s an easy one if you’re a member of the Elks organization. The old folks stumbling hilariously about the stage actually will be members of Punta Gorda Elks Lodge 2606, who will be performing in the lodge’s annual “Memories and Dreams” musical variety show next month to raise funds for the Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services.
This year’s show, the seventh to raise funds for Elks charities, will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 7-9 at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron St., Port Charlotte. The last six shows have raised a total of $23,000, according to lodge treasurer Bob Hahn. The goal this year is “at least $5,000.”
The Shady Acres troupe, under the direction of the lodge’s own Sour Note Productions unit, brings down the house every year, according to show director Michelle Kossel, and this year’s drill routine should be no exception.
The show will be expanding this year, she said, with a cast of 50 and “show-stopping” production numbers, including “Disco Fever” and “Life’s a Beach,” featuring the “best of old shows with some really great new stuff.”
While it’s always a lot of fun for the audience and the performers as well, Hahn said, the show’s profits fund some very serious and vitally necessary therapy services for children in their homes, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
The Florida Elks Children’s Therapy program provides free physical and occupational therapy throughout Florida. It operates 23 mobile units, each with a licensed therapist. In 12 years, its therapists have treated some 6,400 children, providing them with more than 158,000 hours of therapy. The cost for 2011-2012 alone was more than $23 million.
Christine Walker of Port Charlotte, with degrees in psychology and occupational therapy, is a physical therapist, medical technician, teacher, parental adviser and caring kids counselor all rolled into one. She serves Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties.
The children in her care have autism, Down syndrome and other sometimes severe developmental problems. Some can’t talk. She communicates with them “through the eyes.” Some can’t walk. She works with them step by step. Some can’t hold even a pencil. But they learn, word by word.
Sometimes, she said, parents or grandparents, “in denial,” may try to do too much for the child, increasing his challenges. Walker counsels parents extensively and guides them through proper remedial procedures.
The Elks program, she said, is instrumental in the lives of these children and their families. Does she ever become attached to some of the vulnerable young people? She paused and smiled wistfully. “Some,” she said, “treat me like family.”
Tickets for the “Memories and Dreams” show’s open seating are $13. They may be obtained at the lodge in Punta Gorda, 25538 Shore Drive; by calling the lodge at 941-637-2606; at the Cultural Center; by calling the center at 941-625-4175, ext. 221; or through the Cultural Center’s website, www.theculturalcenter.com.
Applications for Elks Children’s Therapy Services may be obtained by calling Lodge 2606 at 941-637-2606; or through the state Elks program administrator at 800-523-1673, ext. 240.