Todd Eckert, director of development for Project Independence, wraps a Charles Dickens-styled long scarf around Ruthanne Hogue prior to seeing “A Christmas Carol” at the South Coast Repertory theater Friday in Costa Mesa.(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)


Ebenezer Scrooge required spectral intervention to realize the magic of the holiday season, but for clients served by the nonprofit Project Independence all it took was a trip to Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory theater.

That’s where, on Friday, a group of cheerful adults who live with disabilities joined with coaches and supporters for a night at the theater as the company performed its annual production of “A Christmas Carol” for fans and the contingent of VIP guests.

SCR Managing Director Paula Tomei was on hand ahead of the 7:30 p.m. performance to personally greet the visitors, who’d each been gifted a long, red Dickensian scarf for the occasion, and to escort them to their seats.

Paula Tomei, left, the managing director of South Coast Repertory, talks with clients of Project Independence Friday before a performance of “A Christmas Carol.”(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)


Todd Eckert, vice president of development for the Costa Mesa nonprofit, says the organization aims to help clients work, live and play with as much independence as possible. That’s why, even when fun is the main objective, there are still lessons to impart.

“They’ve got to register, and when they get the flier, respond by the deadline,” Eckert said of the annual holiday tradition. “There’s a nominal fee, and coaches help them write out a check. And it’s a wonderful end result — they love going.”

Paula Tomei, managing director of the theater, concurred. “Their enthusiasm and excitement about being at South Coast Repertory and seeing the show — including being decked out in red scarves for the evening — warmed our hearts and boosted our spirits,” she shared. “We are grateful to Todd Eckert and his team for making it possible for them to join us and hope they come back next year.”

Eckert said that on the way home, client Jewel Dukes confessed she had a few friends who could benefit from the wisdom Scrooge’s ghosts inspired. Client Craig Thompson said he felt like his Christmas had begun.

“There is something so infectious when you see things through their eyes,” Eckert said of the night. “I think a lot of us felt the holiday spirit.”

Todd Eckert, left, and Paula Tomei pose with Project Independence clients Friday at a South Coast Repertory’s of “A Christmas Carol” in Costa Mesa.(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)