Good Life

‘This group has been really life changing.’ Penn State club inspires performers, mentors

The spotlight is a scary place for some people — but not for the members of Penn State’s multidisciplinary performing arts club Harmony.

Harmony is a performing arts group of 26 students — currently ranging in age from 4 to 42 — open to those with and without special needs. They’re joined by 33 Penn State student volunteers.

According to its website, Harmony’s goal is to provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to join to build relationships, promote inclusion, develop emotional awareness, improve communication and self-expression. Planning for the creation of Harmony began in 2011, and the first class took place in the fall of 2013.

Taylor Balliet, a Penn State junior, is the president of Harmony. She has been involved with the organization since fall 2016.

“I was drawn to Harmony at the involvement fair since their poster had a stage and curtains on it,” Balliet said. “When I learned it was a group for kids with special needs, I knew it was the group for me.”

Balliet’s brother is autistic, so she said Harmony helps her feel close to home when she is away.

“The goal of this group is to provide a place where everyone can come to have a voice and express creativity,” she said, “it’s an inclusive environment.”

Every Monday the group meets for rehearsal, where they are split into two groups — the main Harmony group is made up of students ages 10 and older, and the HarMINIs group is students ages 4 to 9.

During the rehearsals, the students learn various acting, dancing and musical skills, with an emphasis on having fun.

Harmony puts on two showcases a year. On Monday, they were busy putting the finishing touches on their winter performance: “Frozen.” In the past, showcases have featured “The Wizard of Oz,” “Annie,” “The Little Mermaid” and several others. Each show is its own theater production, featuring acting, singing and dancing.

Allie Stump, a junior at Penn State, began volunteering with Harmony earlier this fall. Harmony volunteers serve as mentors to the students, and they work together to create relationships through the arts.

“Being a part of this group has been awesome — it is one of the best things I’ve been a part of in college,” she said. “You can’t leave rehearsal without a smile on your face.”

Stump is involved with several other big groups on campus, but said this was the small thing she was looking for at Penn State.

“It is so personal to be able to connect to these people and see them grow personally and emotionally,” she said, “it’s really motivational.”

According to Balliet, a common misconception is that this group is only for those with special needs. This group is open to any community member who wishes to join.

Sophomore volunteer Olivia Golgosky is finishing her second semester as a part of Harmony.

“This group has been really life changing,” she said, “being that helping hand as these people shine on stage is really impactful.”

Balliet has also found personal help within the group, as she has bipolar disorder.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to get through the depressive episodes — I come to Harmony and always get hugs and smiles which makes a huge difference,” she said, “if it wasn’t for this group I might not be here today.”

If you go

What: Harmony’s “Frozen”

When: 6:15 p.m. Sunday

Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park