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Access. Inspiration. Paula Kelly.

A recent headline in The New York Times read: Paula Kelly, Who Danced from Stage Onto the Screen, Dies at 77.

L-R Paula Kelly, Shirley MacLaine, and Chita Rivera In Sweet Charity. Photo courtesy of

I didn’t have to read the whole obituary (though of course I did) to know who Paula Kelly was. I knew she was the gorgeous African American woman who danced the hell out of Bob Fosse’s notoriously difficult choreography in the movie version of the musical Sweet Charity. I knew she had been cast in the movie because she had danced the role first on stage in London. I knew all this because I love Broadway musicals, (more on that later). But what I didn’t know was what I read in the next paragraph:

“When she saw her first Broadway show, West Side Story, Ms. Kelly was inspired to pursue a career in dance. She auditioned successfully for admission to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and won a scholarship to the dance program at Juilliard in 1960.”

I let that sink in for a minute.

Seeing one show impacted the trajectory of her whole life. She was inspired to take action to pursue a dream of herself as a professional dancer after seeing others doing it. Of course I have no way of knowing how Paula Kelly came to be in that theater on that day; if she was taken there by her parents or as part of a school group of if she bought the ticket herself. But if seeing that performance on that day was a catalyst that led to her amazing future, I sure am glad she was in that seat.

As Director of Development at Tickets for Kids, I spend a lot of time articulating to funders, donors, media, the general public, (and anyone else within earshot) the importance of getting the kids served by our program to the art, cultural, sports, and educational experiences available in their communities. I explain that our generous supporters enable us to remove the cost barrier to these opportunities, so under-resourced kids can have access to potentially transformative experiences.

Like everyone at Tickets for Kids, I have an “experiential origin story” – a moment I can point to in my childhood that was indelibly stamped on my imagination and shaped the rest of my life. For me, it was seeing the musical My Fair Lady when I was 6 years old. (Hence, the aforementioned love of Broadway musicals.) These early watershed moments keep all of us at Tickets for Kids dedicated to the belief that all kids should have access to these experiences – they shape who we become!

Will every experience we provide be transformative? Of course not, but they each have the potential to be! Will every kid become a performer or a scientist or an athlete? Not likely. But whether kids are transformed or simply transported, every experience has impact.

And I can’t help but wonder – which ticket might be placed in the hand of the next Paula Kelly?

by Meryl Hellring, Development and Communications Director