children performing

Susan Quagliato, volunteers with Arms Wide Open , a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults with special needs by fostering caring social environments and creating opportunities for recreation and participation in the arts.

In 2008, the owners of a San Diego-based dance studio began offering a free class for children and adults with special needs, to give them the opportunity to participate in dance and the performing arts. The class was so overwhelmingly popular that in the fall of 2010, it became Arms Wide Open, a non-profit organization.

Susan, a Major Loss Adjuster for AIG’s Private Client Group in San Diego, was already familiar with the dance studio since her children attended classes there when they were younger. When she heard about the launch of the new organization, she knew she had to volunteer. Today, Susan helps the organization put on its annual production.

“The joy that these kids bring to me as I volunteer with them is beyond anything you could ever imagine” she said.

Each year, members of Arms Wide Open have the opportunity to perform all around San Diego at events. In addition to adding new classes in music and fitness, Arms Wide Open has a very successful theater program.

Last year, when they were preparing for their annual theater production of Willy Wonka , Arms Wide Open took a group of 15 youngsters to New York City to see the Broadway play, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory .

After the show was over, the cast was met with Arms Wide Open students. During the conversation, one of the students mentioned that he knew a song, and started to sing. The cast listened to him sing intently, and were very gracious.

“It’s those little moments that add up to why this is such a rewarding organization,” says Susan.

Today, being involved with Arms Wide Open is a family affair. Susan’s daughter, who grew up with learning disabilities, has been able to get a job in the local school district with a special needs class based on her experience with Arms Wide Open. She also offers her time, along with her brother, as an Arms Wide Open volunteer. Susan’s mother has even sewn costumes for the group’s special performances.

“Being able to help kids and adults with special needs enriches my life, and the lives of my children,” said Susan.

This project is supported by AIG’s volunteer programme.

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