NYC based program uses theater to help kids grow and heal

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NEW YORK—“I believe, I believe, I believe in make believe!”

It may be just pretend, but the affect it has on the children it’s touched is real.

Only Make Believe was dreamed up by founder, Dena Hammerstein, a veteran actress, playwright and producer.

"I'd been a volunteer many many moons ago at hospitals and had taken kids to the theater. It was exhausting for the kids and I thought rather than take them to the theater lets bring the theater to them," Hammerstein said.

What started out as entertainment for kids who were sick in the hospital has now spread to schools for kids with special needs.

There are teams of actors who work for the organization, both here in New York City and Washington, D.C..

"My nephew has autism so this is really near and dear to my heart. I don’t get to see him often, so having a way to connect with him when we’re not in the same city is really really great," actor Dax Valdes said.

Only Make Believe has blossomed in its nearly 20 years in existence, thanks in part to celebrity ambassadors who’ve helped spread the word.

The organization’s newest ambassador, Mikhail Baryshnikov, lit the Empire State Building last month in its honor.

"First of all it all comes down to art education. Children in need, sick, fighting a disease, it is extraordinarily helpful for them to be entertained," Baryshnikov said.

"Also, the idea that if you use your imagination that hopefully you can put yourself in a different circumstance than you're in," Hammerstein added.

Hammerstein hopes to bring her program to every hospital across the country.

"Because I love all your shows. I believe, I believe, I believe in make believe," student Caroline said of the program.

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