Last week at Vineyard Arts Project 16-year-old Analia Heredia stood in front of an audience performing a dance medley to a mash-up of words and music that opened with excerpts from Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise, led into Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and then moved into Sara Bareilles’s Brave.

A second number focused more on vocals and blended together five songs including For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield and Ooh Child by The Five Stairsteps. It also used portions of Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize speech, to create an impassioned piece focused on education for children.

The performance was the culmination of a week spent on Martha’s Vineyard by 32 students of Rosie’s Theater Kids, a non-profit organization that connects underprivileged youths of New York city with performing arts. Numbers that include mash-ups of many songs and styles allow the program to draw out the talents of each individual student more than traditional musical numbers with strict casting do.

“We are a training ground,” said executive and artistic director, Lori Klinger. “If you do a [traditional musical] show you have one lead, you have to put kids in boxes. I want to explore what they can do really well.”

Founded by Rosie O’Donnell and Ms. Klinger, the program is now in its 12th year of connecting New York students to Broadway. This is the second summer in a row that Rosie’s Theater Kids have spent a week at Vineyard Arts Project honing their theatrical skills, hanging out, dining together like a big family and getting in some serious beach time. The week ended with a showcase of two of the numbers that will be performed at a gala in New York city on November 2 honoring Broadway belle, Kristin Chenoweth.

Though the students do about six hours of rehearsal a day, between ballet class and vocal and dance practice, their visit to the Island is about more than just preparing for the show.

“It’s not just them coming and singing and dancing,” explained board member and actor, B.D. Wong. “It’s about their individual needs as people in connection to performing. Performing is just a touch point to who they are, what they are about, what they need and where they are going.”

For some of the students, the trip to the Vineyard included their first plane ride, and for one, it was the first visit to the ocean. The students involved in the program come from Title One public schools in New York city. Sixty per cent of the student body at these schools are at or below the poverty line. At Rosie’s Theater Kids, 85 per cent are at or below the poverty line.

“The organization is founded on the ironic principal that so many New York kids live in the backyard of Broadway and have absolutely no access or connection to it,” said Mr. Wong. “And to make that bridge to connect them to it, is just amazing to watch it happen. You just know that in any random group of kids anywhere in the world, if you expose them to a Broadway show or the medium of musical theatre, a high percentage of them would just take to it with great passion and great enthusiasm.”

The students who came to the Vineyard are all a part of ACTE II, a program of Rosie’s (the academic portion of ACTE II includes Arts Plus, where in addition to arts immersion students receive guidance in preparing for auditions as well as higher education preparation). Some, like Analia, have been a part of Rosie’s for five years.

“So these are the kids that we work with tutoring and doing SAT prep and college prep,” said Ms. Klinger. “So as part of that, an experience in life and growing up is traveling and seeing new places, being together with these people you’ve worked so closely with, finding out who snores.”

Ryan Cordero, 15, said that his free time has been spent visiting the beach and searching for the perfect souvenir that says “Martha’s Vineyard.”

“I think it’s great to have time to go explore the area,” Ryan said.

Ryan is invested in dance, and beginning to study music theory, hoping to compose his own music one day. He has been playing guitar for seven years, which was incorporated into a number last year.

Rosie’s Theater Kids plays to the strengths of the students and also gives all the students a chance to shine. Both numbers performed at Vineyard Arts Project cast all 32 students.

“I always feel as a teacher if a kid doesn’t know something exists, they can’t aspire to it,” said board member Ruthe Ponturo. “And really, to get out of whatever circumstances you are born in, you have to know something exists or how are you going to know how to work to get it?”

With in-school programs to introduce children to performing arts and after school programs and summer intensives that truly immerse students into performing, Rosie’s opened up an entire field that otherwise may have been unexplored for many of the participants.

“I don’t think I would be this invested [in the arts],” said Analia. “Before Rosie’s, musical theatre was a hobby, now it is my passion. I really want to be on Broadway, that is my dream now. I will do anything to get that dream.”

Rosie’s Theatre Kids is currently a finalist for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.