Chicago Tribune / Pioneer Press / Franklin Park Herald-Journal

A packed gym of 460 students at Northlake Middle School greeted the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe on November 6.

The photo posted with the story online was by Bob Seidenberg of the Chicago Tribune / Pioneer Press.

Several days after the event, students at Northlake Middle School were still talking about the visit of MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe to their school on Nov. 6, school counselor Photini Sakaras said.

“This is the third time we brought them in,” Sakaras said. “We’ve brought them back every three years, and I’m so happy with them. They really connect with our students.”

MWAH stands for Messages Which Are Hopeful! The troupe of young performers will travel throughout the area, performing shows that teach peers to cope with life’s most difficult issues. The group was founded in December 1983 by Ray Moffitt, then a police social worker in Maywood, as a way to use performing arts as a tool in changing young people’s lives.

At Northlake Middle School, at 202 South Lakewood Ave., the troupe put on a 90-minute presentation addressing such life issues as teen suicide, drug use, the opioid epidemic, bullying and verbal abuse.

The 460-plus students packed into the gym were silent at times as an 18-year-old talked about her long road to recovery from drugs and a mother spoke about losing her 12-year-old son to suicide for reasons she doesn’t know.

Throughout the appearance, participants in the program emphasized the importance of making the right choices.

“It touched people’s hearts,” Sakaras said. “The children really need someone to feel connected to, and they really need to know it is not going to be terrible forever. And by listening to these performances, they realized they’re not alone.

The presentation also featured the school’s choral ensemble and a recognition of six students as heroes for their positive accomplishments. The school’s students joined the MWAH! in the program’s energetic dance finale after rehearsing with the group the previous evening.

Following the performance, the troupe participated in an hour-long debriefing, Sakaras said. The after talk focused on the issues presented and how they relate to the school.