OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Actress Ali Stroker made history Sunday when she won a Tony Award for her role in “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” and now she’s serving as a voice for hope for other performers with differing abilities dreaming of making it on the Great White Way.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” Stroker said while accepting her award.
It’s an acceptance speech that still has one crowd’s eyes glued to the TV and is motivating them to one day be in the same spot.
“I thought it was inspirational,” Brendan Higgins, of Huntington, New York, said.
“Anything is possible in the world,” Katie McGuire, of Massapequa Park, said.
Every last participant at Family Residences and Essential Enterprises on Long Island has a differing ability, but that doesn’t stop them from shooting high, especially in their theater program.
“They really have the goal to be performers. I think that they’ve had these interests since they were younger,” Veronica Garcia, director of day services, said.
So when Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award over the weekend, it sparked something inside these actors.
“Everybody, no matter who they are, really wants to look at a TV screen one day and see somebody who looks like them, and I think that she represents that for a lot of people who are differently abled,” Garcia said.
“The world should see what they can do, as opposed to just talk about what they can’t do,” Steven Jackson, theater program coordinator, said.
The group of 170 spends the day in creative writing classes and learns about performing arts in classroom settings. Often, they put on different plays and musicals at local theaters.
“When I’m on stage, I’m thinking that, um, I’m going to be, that I’m a star,” Sarah Beloten, of Franklin Square, said. “I want to do it for the rest of my life.”
But Stroker’s win is helping them realize Broadway could be their next step in life, especially 24-year-old Anthony Hug, who needs a walker to get around.
“Ali, she is a winner. She’s amazing,” he said.
And she is a hero to all of them.
Family Residences and Essential Enterprises has helped hundreds of Long Islanders with differing abilities for more than 12 years.