Erika Schneider
 This spring, O, The Oprah Magazine posted an invitation on Oprah.com: Tell us your dream, and if our judges love it, we'll connect you to someone who can make it a reality. After reading more than 1,600 inspiring, exhilarating, original responses, we chose six winners who captured our imagination and admiration.

You, too, will be inpired by their stories!
  Erika Schneider
Wagner, South Dakota
Full-time mother and volunteer, 31

Her dream:
Schneider lives on the Yankton Sioux Indian reservation, where artistic opportunities for children are "slim to none," she says. "The Native American community has a rich cultural life, but the expression of this beauty is thwarted by poverty and a sense of hopelessness." Determined to make a change, she founded a community theater. But with no budget, the group planned to use stage lights made of coffee cans and a karaoke machine as a sound system.

How we made the connection:

The role of Good Samaritan was played by not one but an entire city of generous theaters: As soon as the League of Chicago Theatres heard about Schneider's search for equipment, they sent out a call to their members and within days had offers of costumes from the Victory Gardens Theater; scenery from Scenic View; curtains from the Becker family at Grand Stage/Art Drapery Studio; a sound system from TimeLine Theatre; and a director from Thirsty Theater volunteering his time.

"This is the best blessing I could have imagined," says Schneider, who is busy with cast and crew in rehearsals for Tunkasina, a play that takes its title from the Dakota word for grandfather.

Progress:

Erika Schneider's first show, Tunkasina, We Are All Related, is set to open. No matter what, Schneider insists, the show will go on. And days of clearing, cleaning, and painting have turned a donated room into a respectable stage, especially after curtains and scenery arrived from Scenic View, of Chicago, through a Big-Dream connection to the League of Chicago Theatres. "This is one of the first arts projects in our area that involves the white and Native American communities working together," says Schneider. "And that is a big step here."

As the three-night run proceeds, more Big-Dream connections secure the theater's future. Steven and Cindy Noble, who own Flood Music in Sioux Falls, donate a soundboard; TMG, an electronics store, offers spotlights. And other futures take hold: Julia Marshall, 20, a cast member who'd dropped out of high school, decides to go back. Being in the play inspired her to "get involved again," she says. "I'd like to study drama at college." Everyone is fired up. Exhausted, Schneider picks up costumes. "It started out as our dream," she says, beaming. "Now it's their dream."

 Liza Ciano
Burlington, Vermont
Co-owner of Yoga Vermont studio and co-creator of Saka yoga bags, 30

Her dream:
Ciano and business partner Kathy McNames know how unwieldy it can be to carry yoga mats, so they designed and produced a tote bag with a special pouch to hold a mat. Response was terrific—the problem was keeping up with demand. "We're trying to make the jump from small company to reaching a national market," Ciano wrote.

How we made the connection:

Sarah Shaw, owner and designer of Sarah Shaw handbags, had found herself racing to meet demand when, early in her career, she received an unexpected order for 800 bags. "It's a nice problem to have," says Shaw, "but it leaves you scrambling."

She made the commitment to expand her business and today sells her bags to over 500 stores. With the wisdom of experience, she counseled Ciano on managing production and supply. You can find Ciano's yoga bags ($75) at www.sakayoga.com.

Progress:

Liza Ciano, of Burlington, Vermont, co-creator of Saka Yoga Bags, needed help keeping her suddenly successful company at top speed. She and business partner Kathy McNames realized that they needed a more reliable manufacturer."We were frustrated," she says, "but things are on track now." We connected her with designer Sarah Shaw, whose handbag company has temporarily ceased production. "It was really useful," Ciano says. "She shared her hard-won wisdom with us." (To see a photo of one of her bags, go to sakayoga.com.)

NEXT STORY

Next Story

Comment

LONG FORM
ONE WORD