One night in Neverland

Eleven tickets, a limo ride and a chance to be a child again

Yvonne Cantrell isn’t trying to save the world. She just had a little idea to make one night a bit nicer for a handful of kids from the local Shelter for Abused Women & Children.

'Everything is about giving,' says Yvonne Cantrell, who arranged to take 11 children from a local shelter to the opening night of 'Peter Pan' in Fort Myers.  The tickets, the limo and other services were donated.

Photo by Darron R. Silva, Naples Daily News

"Everything is about giving," says Yvonne Cantrell, who arranged to take 11 children from a local shelter to the opening night of "Peter Pan" in Fort Myers. The tickets, the limo and other services were donated.

A limousine. Some ice cream. Maybe the chaperones could dress as fairy godmothers. And the piece de resistance: tickets for the opening night of the national touring production of “Peter Pan” at the Mann.

All of it donated.

“I’m just bold,” Cantrell says. “If I want something I just ask. If they say, no, I’m fine with it. But no one said no.”

She crosses tan legs and leans slowly toward her coffee. The petite 35-year-old sips contentedly.

Yvonne Cantrell is a party planner and a marketing coordinator for Key Marco, a real estate development. It’s her job to make everything pretty, she explains, punctuating the thought, as she does with many thoughts, with an exclamation point. “I’m a put-together person!”

This is how it began: About three weeks ago, a commercial for “Peter Pan” made her think. First, that she wanted to go. Then she wondered, who can I take with me?

She thought of the shelter, where she volunteered years ago. “But the tickets are $53. I couldn’t very well go there and say, ‘Hey, I want to take two kids.’”

So she went to the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. They get a lot of requests, says general manager Mary Bensel, but this one was different.

The tickets for 'Peter Pan' that were donated to children from a local shelter for abused women.

Photo by Darron R. Silva, Naples Daily News

The tickets for "Peter Pan" that were donated to children from a local shelter for abused women.

“It really clutches at my heart when women get abused, especially when children are involved,” Bensel says. “The other reason is that ... when you come out of ‘Peter Pan,’ you’re so happy. I wanted to do something to make them happy.”

The musical’s production company gave them 12 tickets. That was when Cantrell really got going: She and roommate JoAnne Allen would dress like a fairy godmothers (“They make dreams come true, after all”); they’d get limos; and they’d stop for ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s after the play. It would be a magical evening.

The shelter approved the idea, although they nixed the costumes. These kids come to the shelter from troubled situations — sometimes long-term domestic violence, sometimes a one-time incident. The costumes might draw attention to the group.

“We have to be very careful,” explains Sallie Morhard, a counselor in the transitional living program. “It truly could be life threatening for these families.”

“Abuse encumbers you,” says Cantrell, who talks about her own childhood abuse with a startling matter-of-factness. “It just doesn’t give children a chance to be children. I remember visiting other families (as a kid). They had mom and dads who were married and not a whole lot of things were going on. What I loved was that I could be myself there. I could be a kid.”

In the end, Cantrell gathered goods and services, including ice cream and a limo for 14, roughly totally $1,200. Eleven children, ages 5-14, rode in the limo Sunday night. It was decorated with birthday paraphernalia (“They all had birthdays this year,” Cantrell says). They sang “Happy Birthday” for each one. They wore party hats.

“The only word I can think of to describe it is magical,” says Morhard, who was one of two shelter staffers in attendance.

She laughs. One of the girls went home with a feather boa Cantrell brought for the occasion. “When we got back to the shelter, one of the mothers asked the girl where she got her feathers. She said, ‘From the limo princess.’”

But even the woman who makes things pretty knows that one evening in Neverland, in fancy clothes and a limo, won’t necessarily make their worlds right again. It won’t change their lives.

“I hope this is just a happy memory,” Cantrell says, “in the back of their heads.”

To Donate:

Contact the Shelter for Abused Women & Children at 775-3862.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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