Teens’ “Godspell” Production Makes a Difference at Home and Abroad

“My name is Benjamin Wright, and I am a firm believer that anyone and everyone can and should make a positive difference in the world.”

The opening line of Benjamin’s guest post on the Episcopal Relief & Development blog pretty much sums it up. Feeling called to use his talents and theater experience to make a real impact on the lives of people around the world, Benjamin called together a group of volunteers to stage a benefit production of Godspell – a Broadway musical based on the Gospel of Matthew. Through cash and in-kind donations, Benjamin and his crew were able to assemble permissions, props, costumes and technical elements for the show, so the full amount of box office sales could be donated to a good cause. Episcopal Relief & Development was designated as the recipient, with instructions that the contributions be used to support programs that provide food and clean water for communities in need. All of this was accomplished with support from local volunteers, Theater Arlington, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, St. Anne Episcopal Church in DeSoto, and Canterbury Episcopal School, where Benjamin is a junior.

That’s right, a junior. Benjamin is an extremely motivated and organized 16-year-old with a passion for youth activism and serving others.

“Regrettably, in our society today, teenagers are not pushed to make such a difference,” he wrote. “I wanted to prove that with firm application and determination, a youth could actually create a major difference in many people’s lives.”

The son of two priests – his mother, Melanie, is priest-in-charge at St. Alban’s; his father, Andrew, is rector at St. Anne – Benjamin first heard about Episcopal Relief & Development through his mother’s church several years ago, when they lived in Maryland.

“I learned both of Gifts for Life and the NetsforLife® program… [and] I would contribute from time to time by purchasing an item in someone’s name as a Christmas gift,” he said.

Benjamin explained that the idea for the Godspell benefit production came about after he participated in a program that explored how shortages of food and fresh water impact millions of people worldwide. Benjamin and a number of other teens from the program teamed up with friends, classmates and local Episcopal youth to plan the show, and Benjamin brought up Episcopal Relief & Development as a potential recipient of the proceeds.

“I suggested the organization to the production team primarily because I have had the opportunity to give through Gifts for Life in the past,” he wrote in his guest post. After researching the organization, the team was impressed by the scope and success of Episcopal Relief & Development’s work, and they agreed.

The story of how the production came together was highlighted in the local news, and soon it was opening night. When asked about his favorite part of the project, Wright said: “it was probably the miracles I was allowed to witness. Time after time, some hurdle would get in our way, only to be removed at the last second when all was thought to be lost. Everything we needed was given through the grace of God right when we had need of it, and that was pretty amazing to watch.”

The Rev. Virginia Holleman, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Diocesan and Provincial Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas and Province VII, attended the opening night’s performance – which went on in spite of pouring rain and a power outage – and enjoyed the show so much that she went back for the closing performance as well. She wrote, “Jesus’ familiar parables and stories [were] told with a contemporary slant, and we could see ourselves in some of those timeless lessons Jesus taught. And laugh and clap anyway!” According to Mother Virginia, the project exceeded its fundraising goal of $8,000 through box office sales alone, not to mention concessions, t-shirt sales and donations – all of which will go toward clean water and sustainable food projects through Episcopal Relief & Development.

The success of the show impressed not only the audiences, but Benjamin and his team as well. Benjamin wrote, “Numerous people asked us, ‘so what are you doing next year?’” Although it is still being decided whether the group will do another event, the impact of the show on the production team and the community is undeniable: “I think that the cast and much of the crew had the chance to realize how much they were able to make a difference and how amazing it was that they could do such amazing things. Everyone involved grew into a close community of friendship, and I believe that everyone has grown from this show.”

The funds that Benjamin and his team raised will help improve health and wellbeing in communities thousands of miles from DeSoto, but Benjamin is also helping to improve life in his own community. By mobilizing young people to look beyond their own doorsteps and make an impact in the wider world, this project is helping to strengthen future leaders and build a culture of service that will touch many lives in years to come.

“They might not know it, but even the way they organized the event – mobilizing local resources and using their own talents and strengths to multiply the contributions they received for the benefit of many – is very similar to the way our local partners work,” said Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief & Development. “It is wonderful to hear about young people taking leadership roles and using their talents to make a difference in the lives of others.”

There are many examples of programs that projects like Benjamin’s are helping to support. In Myanmar, local farmers are using an innovative technology to produce organic fertilizer, doubling crop yields within three years and strengthening the soil structure to prevent erosion. In Nicaragua, wells and sanitary latrines are breaking the cycle of sickness caused by using contaminated water. And in Kenya, rainwater catchment tanks mean that the school day can continue without interruptions previously caused by daily trips to the nearby stream. Learn more about how you can get involved by clicking here!


Photos from “Godspell” courtesy of the Rev. Virginia Holleman. Program photos courtesy of Harvey Wang for Episcopal Relief & Development.