ATWATER -- Song, dance and poetry will reverberate throughout Buhach Colony High School's theater Friday morning as a special group of performers entertains its audience.
What's different about the hourlong performance is that some of the youthful entertainers are in wheelchairs and others have physical disabilities that challenge but don't conquer their daily lives.
The "There is a Season" production, which begins at 10 a.m., culminates a monthlong summer youth arts program through the Merced County Office of Education. It is free to the public.
Dance, creative writing, art and drama are folded together in fast-moving action directed by Pattee Russell-Curry, a marriage and family therapist. She is also a certified dance-movement therapist through the American Dance Therapy Association.
"It's very heartwarming," Russell-Curry said. "The kids are very bright, creative and talented. They put a lot into it."
Enrique Solorio, 19, just graduated from Merced High School. Spina bifida keeps him in a wheelchair much of the time but doesn't prohibit him from high-energy dance movements and singing in Spanish.
"I enjoy it very much," Solorio said. "I've been involved with the program for four years."
Later, while wearing a black cowboy hat, Solorio sings a Spanish song accompanied by mariachi music.
Russell-Curry said this is the first year the program has been at Buhach Colony High. Its previous 14 performances were at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center and played to standing-room-only audiences.
"This is a really nice collaborative event," she said.
Besides orthopedically handicapped students, participants also come from the office of education's deaf and hard-of-hearing program at Peterson School, severely handicapped program at Merced High School and Dream Enterprise program for developmentally disabled adults.
Using hula hoops, Solorio and another wheelchair-bound student do a rolling dance to an Arabic tune, accompanied by roller skaters and a juggling clown.
Four girls dance, while another recites poetry. Using a variety of flute called the ocarina, one student accompanies a friend on the piano. With arms waving and bodies swaying, five wheelchair-bound youths perform an East Indian dance, adapting square dance moves with their walking partners.
A rapid-fire rap song illustrates the Very Special Arts day performance. Other girls attired in fan-like costumes perform a dance, and a wheelchair-bound pianist accompanies a singing quartet.
Amber Kirby, a creative writing and visual arts instructor through the ArTree programs, handles the sound and other technical production issues.
"I love it," said Kirby, who's been involved for seven years. "I wish I could do this 365 days a year. It's what I look forward to doing every year. I wish this was longer, and I had more time with them. It has enriched me as much as it has them."
Russell-Curry said the orthopedically handicapped students might have cerebral palsy, spina bifida or other conditions, or injuries sustained in traffic or swimming accidents. Some students have autism-spectrum disorders.
Russell-Curry said mainstreamed high school students also volunteer with the program for community service credits, and other "alumni" come back year after year as mentors.
Alexis Hill has been with the program for two summers. A Merced High student who graduated this month, Hill was severely injured in Feb. 9, 2009, when she was hit by a vehicle while walking near the West Olive Avenue school.
"This program helped me the summer after my accident," Hill said. "It brought me out of my shell, and I feel compelled to help. I'm giving back."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.