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Paramount welcomes special guests for ‘Annie’

Annie played by Caroline Heffernan servants perform 'I Think I'm GonnLike It Here' during final dress rehearsal producti'Annie' Paramount Theater

Annie, played by Caroline Heffernan, and the servants perform "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" during a final dress rehearsal of the production "Annie" at the Paramount Theater on Tuesday, November 20, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Free tix for agencies that help kids

The Paramount Theater has set aside 50 free tickets to every performance of “Annie” to be used by non-profit organizations that serve children or families. Since the offer was sent out by e-mail last week, more than 1,300 people have signed up.

These tickets will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. To apply, go to paramountaurora.com/dreams.

To be eligible for these tickets, the organization must be a registered non-profit, and the tickets must be used specifically for underprivileged children or families. A maximum of 50 tickets per organization is allowed. Ticket requests for individuals or families cannot be accepted.

For more info, go to paramountaurora.com/dreams or e-mail info@paramountarts.com. When e-mailing, use the subject line DREAMS. Include your organization’s name, address, website, contact person, phone number, day and time of request and number of seats requested.

Once the request has been received and reviewed, the organization will be contacted by a Paramount staff member. Because of the demand for tickets, the Paramount asks organizations not to call the theater.

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:39AM



AURORA — The curtain rose at the Paramount Theatre in front of a sparse audience. Hardly any of the 1,880 seats were filled.

A man and a woman walked to center stage, carrying a bundle. They loved their red-headed baby, but they had no way to care for her. They hoped someone else could help. They set the child on the doorstep with a note.

“Please take care of our little girl. She was born on Oct. 28. We will be back soon.”

In the audience, children leaned forward in their seats, watching this small tragedy unfold.

Normally, there are no unaffiliated audience members at a final dress rehearsal. The last practice performance is a run-through of the entire show, a final chance to iron out any hiccups. But Tuesday night was different. More than 100 children and foster parents were invited to watch a Broadway-quality production for free.

The kids in the audience Tuesday night were, or have been, wards of the state. They had been neglected or abused by their parents or guardians, then removed from their home by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. They have been placed with foster families through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois.

And on Tuesday, they were watching “Annie,” the show about a little girl who is left in a doorway and finds love in an adopted family.

In a row on the west side of the theater, Jeff Jones held a 4-year-old boy in his lap. In the same row, a 5-year-old boy sat on the edge of his seat, putting his hands around his face at any scary parts. Farther down, 7-year-old and 10-year-old boys, and a 16-year-old girl watched as Annie and the girls in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage were forced to scrub the floor.

“No one ever cares for you, a smidge,” the girls sang during “Hard Knock Life.” “When you’re in an or-phan-age.”

The five kids sitting with Jeff Jones were his foster children. The boys have been living with Jeff and Cathy Jones since May 2011; the girl arrived Tuesday.

For years, Jeff and Cathy had volunteered at homeless shelters and on mission trips. They loved the work, but felt it ended too soon. They wanted to make a bigger impact. They decided to retire early so they could become foster parents. On the day their license was approved, the four boys moved into their house. After raising three biological children, the Joneses were back to being parents of young boys.

“Most people think we’re crazy and that’s OK,” Jeff Jones said.

The Joneses turned in their two motorcycles for an eight-passenger van. They moved from a house in Aurora to Yorkville, where they’d have a bigger yard for kids to play. And they tried to make a life together from this collection of adults and kids who have lived very different lives.

“Every kid has a story. They all have a story tell, just like Annie has a story,” Jeff Jones said.

At the close of the first act, Jeff Jones watched as Oliver Warbucks listened to Annie. Warbucks, the wealthy industrialist, had been unexpectedly swept off his feet by the girl he plucked from an orphanage. He was about to ask Annie if he could adopt her when she confesses she desperately wants to find her birth parents. As the curtain closes on the first act, Warbucks is crushed, but pledges to call in every resource to find her parents.

“There’s a reality. The kids love their parents no matter the circumstances,” Jeff Jones said at intermission. “No matter what the circumstances, Mom and Dad will never be replaced. But you get attached to them.”

Jones said he is open to adopting the boys. They have been in the foster care system for four years. But the court process is intentionally slow, and weighted in favor of the birth parents.

“It is a very tough job we ask the foster parents to do,” said Laura Vargas, program director for Lutheran Social Services. “We ask them to love them and care for them and hopefully send them back to their parents.”

After the play, Jeff Jones asked the kids what they thought. The young boys talked about the scenery that moved in and out during the show. They talked about the awful Miss Hannigan, who smoked and drank. They liked Sandy, a real dog that plays a prominent role in the show.

But the kids didn’t miss the parallels to their own lives. Sitting in the audience with a stranger who is now raising them makes it a little easier to believe that the sun will come out tomorrow.

“I learned there’s hope for tomorrow,” the 10-year-old boy said. “You have to try your best.”

Jones, like the other foster parents, loves these boys. He’s happy they got a chance to walk into a majestic theater like the Paramount to see a live show, especially since none of the boys had ever been to a movie theater.

As the curtain rose for the second act, the kids settled in. From the back of the theater, they all seemed the same, anonymous shadowy blobs scattered through the seats. But from the stage, where the lights beamed, every child’s face was illuminated.



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