Friendship Theatre volunteer helps the show go on for kids with developmental disabilities

Volunteer Shelly Cain is the Mirror’s Hometown Hero for August.

At Federal Way’s Friendship Theatre, volunteer Shelly Cain helps make sure the show goes on for kids and young adults with developmental disabilities.

She was recently honored by the Federal Way City Council for her enterprising and creative approach to raising funds for the city-organized program. She’s the Federal Way Mirror’s Hometown Hero for the month of August.

The Friendship Theatre, offered by the city Parks and Recreation Department’s inclusion program, started over two decades ago to provide opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to perform in theatre productions.

Those shows offer a chance for teens and young adults with disabilities to get on stage, meet new friends, challenge themselves and make lasting memories. Participants make friends, learn the ropes of acting and typically put on a full four-night performance every summer at the Knutzen Family Theatre on Dash Point Road, according to Kevin Hutchinson, the city’s inclusion coordinator. Around 50 actors and actresses practice each week, he said.

“Our program coordinator Sharon Boyle, she challenges people and tries to get the best out of them,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of people focus on the word ‘disability’ and what they can’t do, but this theatre program brings out a lot of the skills and abilities that these actors (have).”

But running the show is no easy feat, and it requires the help of dozens of volunteers like Cain, who runs Cain Bolt and Gasket Inc., a Seattle-based hardware store, along with her husband. Cain has showed a knack for creative, DIY efforts to raise money for the program and an optimism to match, Hutchinson said.

“She’s just such a positive influence and presence, always coming in with a smile to the theatre,” Hutchinson said. “She’s the kind of person that is thinking ahead, taking it upon herself to come up with ideas and ways to benefit the participants.”

Cain’s son Brandon is autistic and has participated in the theatre for several years. Like many actors, he was shy at first, but has grown and has come out of his shell, Hutchinson said.

“I think theatre and acting brings out something in each of the actors, and he’s been taking a larger role each year in the performances,” Hutchinson said. “He’s been great, super enthusiastic, awesome with his lines.”

Brandon’s brother even volunteers for the program and has joined the other actors on stage as part of their group of actors without disabilities.

During the Aug. 9 city council meeting, parks department Deputy Director Jason Gerwin presented Cain with a certificate of recognition.

“Not only did Cain Gasket and Bolt … sponsor Friendship Theatre, but Shelly took it upon herself to add a fundraising component this year,” Gerwin said at the city council meeting. “She graciously purchased wine glasses and water bottles, printed them with the logo, set up a stand and sold them at the four performances. … She spent her time and effort to raise over $1,500, which is a big deal and impact for the inclusion program.”

In a brief speech, Cain thanked the city council and parks department for all the services the Federal Way Community Center has given her son Brandon.

“I love this community,” Cain said. “I don’t live here, but I have to tell you … not all communities do what you guys do, including my own, for the kids that I love.”

The money Cain raised will help many theatre participants on fixed or low incomes get to participate through the theatre’s scholarship program, Hutchinson said,

“She just came to me with the idea and ran with it,” he said. “The generosity, the kindness of her heart, she sees those opportunities and really runs with them without needing guidance from me or anyone else.”

Information on the Theatre is available by navigating the inclusion section of the parks website at Participants and volunteers can sign up there, or visit the Federal Way Community Center. The next performance by the Friendship Theatre is currently slated for June 2023.