By Joshua Levy
My passion for enriching the lives of children with special needs is rooted from my experiences as a teacher’s aide throughout my middle and high school years. While in eighth grade I had the opportunity to work with special needs students; I recall teaching English/Language Arts lessons and the feeling of enjoying the moments is still fresh on my mind.
In high school I served as a special needs classroom aide for 5th grade students, I was a classroom assistant for a special needs class at our congregation, and I worked as a teaching assistant for children who were significantly physically and cognitively disabled.
Although I was headstrong in following Paul Newman’s footsteps to pursue a degree in acting at Carnegie Mellon University, my mother suggested that I pursue teaching children with special needs as a career. Like a good son, I followed my mother’s advice and I majored in elementary and special education at the University of Nebraska.
Upon graduating from one of the coldest college towns in the country, I moved to Austin, TX where I taught special education at both the elementary and high school levels. Teaching students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, behavior disorders, speech impairments, autism, and other disabilities furthered my compassion for children struggling with differences out of their own control. Opting to further my career in public education I pursued the path for school administration and I served as an assistant principal at both the high school and elementary levels. After just over eight years in public education the intensity of the needs of the children and the demands as a rookie-administrator took their toll on me.
After a chance dinner conversation while attending a wedding, I learned about an educational publishing company and pursued a nine-year career in project and program management. The corporate world taught me various essential tools including: organizational culture; prioritization of tasks; people management; fiscal management; quality production; timely delivery of contractual deliverables, and a strong sense of business acumen.
While working I often daydreamed of following my life’s calling, but couldn’t quite grasp the digits for the right call. Early in my corporate experience I acquired my Masters of Business Administration with the thought that combining my business experience and my passion for enriching the lives of children with special needs would answer my phone call with the Universe.
Fast forward to September 2015, while in a moment of inner solitude, a huge wave of major energy hit me, nearly shaking my body. The phone call from the Universe rang, and it was a triumphant ring, a vision to create something innovative, mind-blowing, spiritually uplifting, and beautiful: Children with a wide range of special needs achieve their best from creative experiences through the fine arts in a warm and welcoming environment. What would become Joshua’s Stage was born that day, and it has been organically growing since.
Creating a stage where children with special needs can demonstrate their creativity and increase their self-confidence is an incredibly rewarding and humbling endeavor for me, and every day the experience connects me to the Universe with a profound sense of meaning and fulfillment. Being present when these children start our program with shyness and a sensitivity to their own unique abilities to the moment they shine while performing for their families during our Showcase is heartwarming, uplifting, motivating, magical – it’s the intense feeling I have that the Universe’s phone call in September 2015 was made with love.
Joshua has worked in education and with people with special needs for most of his professional life. Rather than pursuing an acting degree, he majored in elementary and special education at University of Nebraska. With an M.Ed., and an M.B.A., he served as an Assistant Principal on the elementary and high school levels. He pivoted a bit to work for an educational publishing company but was still seeking his “calling.” He decided in fall, 2015 to take a leap and follow his interests in theater, education and creating this innovative approach to education and creativity for children with special needs.