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CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis hosted its annual fundraiser Thursday night in Chesterfield, and it was the organization’s first in-person event of this magnitude in two years.

The event, titled “Unbound: An Evening of Empowerment,” embraced inclusivity and accessibility. It gave attendees a chance to break free from their limitations, specifically those surrounding the pandemic and those placed on children and teens with disabilities.

There were performances, a dinner, and videos sharing kids’ personal experiences. It kicked off Variety’s “Spring Empower Ability Challenge,” which will run through the end of May.

All proceeds from Thursday’s event will go toward medical equipment, special programs, and performing arts camps that invest in St. Louis children and teens living with disabilities.

“We need money to do that, and we’re going to raise just in little over a month $2 million to make the dreams possible,” said Brian Roy, Variety’s executive director.

No one understands the importance of their work more than actress Ali Stroker, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was two. She hosted Thursday’s event.

An inspiration to so many, Stroker was the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony.

“I was used to rejection,” she said. “I was used to trying to do something, and I had to do it differently. I had to be creative, and that’s kind of what you need to make it in this industry.”

That message resonating with the families variety helps, including the Hagans.

“All three of our kids have gotten to experience help from Variety, and without that help, we wouldn’t have Brenton riding bikes, my daughter Savannah performing in the musicals, and Tanner receiving weekly therapies. We would be lost without variety,” parent Kyle Hagan.

“I think more than ever people want to see someone being themselves and finding their power through singing, acting, and dancing,” said Stroker.

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