A promise made; a promise kept

Millstone resident’s theater company will produce shows to benefit charities

Staff Writer

MILLSTONE — Two weeks before her younger brother Larry died from melanoma, Laurie Edwards promised him she would do something really good with her life.

Edwards wanted to make a difference in honor of her brother. She wanted to work on a project that would effect lasting change in someone’s life. Twelve years later, she is ready to keep her promise.

When Edwards, of Millstone Township, met Sylvia Allen, of Holmdel, she knew she was on the path to fulfilling her undertaking. Allen’s nonprofit, Sylvia’s Children, assists more than 1,000 children at the Mbiriizi Advanced Primary and Day Care School in Uganda, Africa.

For the last seven years, the organization has made a difference in these children’s lives by providing a well for clean water, a library and books, additional classrooms, a nurse and health care services, and other goods and services.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Allen said. “When she said, ‘I’m going to do a concert for you,’ I said, ‘You’re a saint.’ ”

Having worked in theater since the age of 14 and for Phoenix Productions at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank for more than two decades, Edwards decided to use her production talents to form the New Jersey Theatre Group.

Her intent is to bring theater to New Jersey while raising funds for Sylvia’s Children and other causes.

“The premise behind the theater company is to do shows in conjunction with charities,” Edwards said. “A percentage of the profits from the show will go to charity. A lot of the shows I am doing to support Sylvia’s Children.”

Edwards would ultimately like to collect enough funding for Allen to have the ability to replicate what she is doing in Uganda in other areas where children live in need.

“I appreciate that when she raises money, 100 percent goes to help the school in Uganda,” Edwards said. “There are no administrative or hidden fees.”

Allen Consulting, the public relations firm Allen owns, pays all of the nonprofit’s costs, so all contributions go directly to those in need, according to Allen. She also visits Uganda with medical professionals and other volunteers multiple times a year.

“I just took 80 kids to the dentist over two days,” she said of her last trip.

Edwards admires that Allen doesn’t just send money overseas, but that she stays in touch with the children of Uganda, and she wants to reach out as well, especially to two children there who have life-threatening heart conditions.

“I want to raise money to fly them here with a parent and help [Allen] find doctors to work with the children,” Edwards said.

The next New Jersey Theatre Group presentation to benefit Sylvia’s Children will take place at the Millstone Township Performing Arts Center, Dawson Court, Millstone Township. “An Evening With the King” will be performed at 8 p.m. July 31.

Tickets cost between $30 and $85, with VIPs enjoying a post-show cocktail party with “Elvis.” The King will be depicted by Rick Alviti, one of the top Elvis performers in the country who has been named ambassador to Las Vegas. The show will also benefit CentraState Medical Center’s Pediatric Emergency Department.

“I am so positive that people will enjoy the show that I’m willing to say that if they don’t enjoy it, I’ll give them their money back,” Edwards said.

Prior to the July 31 show, the theater group will present “Asbury Dares” starting at 11 p.m. July 23 at The Saint in Asbury Park.

The late-night show to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS will include music by the Millstone Township band Finale Hill and a cabaret performance by cast members of the “Rent” performance at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.

Edwards likes to present a mix of professional and up-and-coming performers in her productions.

“In everything I do, I try to incorporate the local community,” she said.

For example, the New Jersey Theatre Group’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Oct. 23 in Millstone Township will feature the talents of Allentown High School theater arts teacher Mark Megill, who is helping to put the benefit show together. The show will benefit Sylvia’s Children, but Edwards is also seeking other nonprofit groups with which to partner.

“Any charity looking for a partner, I would be happy to talk to,” Edwards said.

Allen said, “I’m thrilled we started this partnership and hope we can continue it. It’s another way to get the message out to another group of people to understand the plight of these children [in Uganda] and how to make a difference in their lives.”

Edwards said her dream is to have the New Jersey Theatre Group help Allen or others duplicate Sylvia’s Children’s efforts in other parts of the world.

“Even if I don’t get to the dream, I’ll have done some really good stuff along the way, trying to keep my promise to my brother,” Edwards said.

For more information about Sylvia’s Children, visit www.sylviaschildren.org.

For more information about the New Jersey Theatre Group, visit the Internet website at www.njtheatregroup.com.