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Utica's Talented Kids Pay Tribute at Pentagon

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2002 – It was hot and humid, but the 12- to 18-year-old singers, dancers and musicians from upstate New York knew the show must go on.

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Pentagon employee Sheila Moody (center right) receives a photo book from Brian Heffron (left), Aug. 1, 2002, for helping the United Kids of America Tour arrange to perform at the Pentagon. Moody's from Utica, N.Y., the troupe's hometown, and was injured in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
  

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In close to 100-degree weather, the United Kids of America performed in honor of the nation's military and police, fireman and other first responders. With traditional show- biz fortitude, 50 kids sang patriotic songs, danced, marched and saluted today in the Pentagon courtyard.

After three performances in New York City -- one near Ground Zero, a second at the United Nations and a third in Central Park -- the United Kids of America Tour had traveled to the nation's capital to give their final performance.

Singer Brian Heffron, 18, of New Hartford, N.Y., explained why he volunteered for the show tour. "Everybody asked, 'What can we do?' after 9-11," he said. "This was my way of saying, 'This is what I can do." I can use my voice and my acting and my dancing skills to honor those whom I believe are heroes."

Singer Keely Scarlata, 15, of Clinton, N.Y., said she auditioned for the show because she thought it'd be patriotic and "great to get involved with it." She's a member of Show Stopper Productions, which co-organized the tour.

Tour Director Karen O'Brien said she initiated the show to give the kids a way to express themselves in the wake of the terrorist attack.

"I work a lot with teen-agers, just as a hobby," she said. "I feel that they have a lot that they think and feel, that maybe adults underestimate them. I wanted them to have an opportunity to speak for themselves on what impact 9-11 had on them."

O'Brien asked all the members of the Utica area performing arts community to participate in a joint show. Her goal was to bring all the kids together and work as a team. Students of private dance studios and vocal coaches responded, and rehearsals stated in March.

"Planning began a few months earlier," she said, "writing the show, picking out material, looking at costumes. My mom, Ruth O'Brien, did all the coordinating for this, and we have a whole staff of adults who helped. Like our sound guy, Pat Petrello, who's sweating profusely out there."

The show premiered at Stanley Theater in Utica, N.Y., and the rest is history, according to O'Brien. "It's been a great experience," she added, "because a lot of the kids did not know one another when they started this tour and now I don't think they could be separated."

Arriving by bus from New York, the group toured the national monuments by night. The next morning, it was on to the Pentagon, said dance director Charline Topor of Marcy, N.Y. She noted that the group did a lot of fund-raising to make the tour possible. Kids, parents and supporters did spaghetti dinners and solicited ads for the show's program. Wal-Mart and the American Legion also helped sponsor the kids, she added.

"This was a great trip for me," Topor said. "It was great seeing all the kids come together and make new friends. I think it's meant a lot to the kids to do this. The parents that came with us were just thrilled to see the kids perform -- even in all this heat."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe United Kids of America Tour entertained service members and Defense Department civilians during a lunchtime show at the Pentagon Aug. 1, 2002. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHigh school band members from Utica, N.Y., play at the Pentagon Aug. 1, 2002, during the United Kids of America Tour honoring the nation's military and first responders. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSporting red, white and blue striped capes over their blue outfits, dancers with the United Kids of America Tour perform at the Pentagon Aug. 1, 2002. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDecked out in red, white and blue, and carrying sequined ball caps, United Kids of America perform at the Pentagon Aug 1, 2002. Lead male singer Brian Heffron (front right), 18, of New Hartford, N.Y., said he wanted to use his voice and acting and dancing skills to honor those he believes are heroes. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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