Peter Pan Foundation Embraces Performing Arts and Philanthropy

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Performers with the Peter Pan Foundation participated in Orinda’s 2022 4th of July parade.

    It was January 2006 when Leslie Noel, a singing teacher and student of opera, first crossed paths with Steffen Ryge, a senior at Acalanes High School. Noel was performing in an alumni concert for the high school; Ryge, more of a thespian himself, was nonetheless so moved by her singing that he approached her after the show.
    The two got to talking, with Ryge expressing that he’d love to participate in one of Noel’s future productions. Noel, inspired by their conversation – and Ryge’s boyish resemblance to Peter Pan – soon began work on a new original musical.
    Noel and Ryge’s mutual love of the performing arts and helping others gave way to a creative masterpiece: a new musical Wish Upon A Star. With Noel running the show, Ryge starring as Peter Pan, and many of his high school peers joining the project, the show was a roaring success.
    The first run of Wish Upon a Star raised thousands of dollars for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland – and Noel and Ryge’s creative partnership was just getting started. From there, they broadened their horizons by visiting patients and putting on more performances. Both gained a deeper appreciation for the power of music to connect people and cultivate gratitude. They knew they had more work to do.
    But their work was cut short in August 2006, when Ryge lost his life in a tragic auto accident. He was only 18 years old, mere weeks away from starting college. His family and friends were devastated – as was Noel.
    Yet she knew Ryge wouldn’t want their work to end there. To honor his memory and preserve the spirit of their collaboration, Noel founded the Peter Pan Foundation (PPF): a non-profit organization dedicated to serving children through music, creativity, and kindness.
    Today, over 16 years later, PPF continues to be a home for love, diversity, empathy and connection. Through youth outreach, charity visits and musical fundraisers, PPF serves countless children and families in the Lamorinda area and beyond.
    Noel is particularly emphatic about prioritizing inclusivity and diversity in everything they do.
    “The Peter Pan Foundation is a place of inclusion which supports and celebrates the beauty of uniqueness and diversity,” said Noel. “We provide equal casting and participation opportunities [for all demographics].”
    Steffen Ryge’s mother, Charlotta Ryge, is similarly proud of the ethos at PPF, where she serves as the non-profit’s secretary. “To me, the most inspiring thing about the PPF is a strong thread of loving kindness which runs through everything we do,” she said.
    PPF collaborates with numerous non-profit organizations around the country to help address various issues. These include Make-A-Wish, Born This Way Foundation, Easter Seals Bay Area, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and more.
    “Through PPF, thousands have been recipients of philanthropic endeavors,” said Noel. “These donations foster support for the health, mental health and general well-being of those who need us most – including those who participate in our productions.”
    With unwavering dedication to serving the Lamorinda community, the Peter Pan Foundation undoubtedly has a lasting impact on the lives of children and families in need.
    Moreover, PPF ensures that Steffen Ryge’s legacy will never be forgotten – every Memorial Day weekend, they continue to perform Wish Upon A Star in honor of him.
    “Through the performing arts, we spread love and light, while also raising funds to donate to important and worthy causes,” said Charlotta. “Being a part of the PPF family is fun, inspiring, and most of all, life-changing.”
    For more information, visit

Janie Hollerbach can be reached at

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