"Children need to go to the theatre as much as they need to run about in the fresh air. They need to hear real music played by real musicians on real instruments as much as they need food and drink. If you deprive children of shelter and food and exercise, they die visibly. If you deprive them of art and music and story and theatre, they perish on the inside, and their starvation doesn't show." -- Philip Pullman, quoted by the Theatre Development Fund.

Never underestimate the power and influence that the arts can have on impressionable high school students. Whether it's through discussion or exposure to performing arts and live theater, it can awaken the senses and open the door to untapped talent, confidence and self-expression. New York City's "Great White Way" should shine bright for everyone -- regardless of color, race, ethnicity or class.

"Theatre-going is the birthright of every New Yorker," according to the late Tony and Pultizer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, co-founder of Open Doors, a Theatre Development Fund arts education program.

Open Doors partners with select high schools within the New York City school system to introduce underserved students to live theater, including talented Latino youth. Participants attend six productions a year and gather after each show for a 90-minute post-performance discussion over pizza and soda with a mentor drawn from the theatre industry. They record their reflections in a journal, which, at the end of the year, they share with their teacher.

In 1998, Wasserstein and Broadway production stage manager Roy Harris joined with TDF to found Open Doors. In 2011, Open Doors became the first arts education program to be named for a special Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre.

Arturo Diaz, a high school student who was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States when he was 7 years old, obtained a scholarship from Open Doors in June of 2013, which was a life-changing experience.

"Every time I was in the theater I felt a really deep sense of peace. I never thought I could relate so much to theatre. That it would be theatre that encouraged me to take off my mask and really be myself," Diaz said.

"In the first couple of discussions, I was uncomfortable and kept quiet. I've never been the type of person that tells my business to strangers. I thought to myself, 'no way did my mentors really care.' I was afraid of letting things out. But I as I got more comfortable, I started to express my inner feelings and I began to bond with my group," he said. "Seeing them share stories about their life and struggles gave me the strength to open up and talk about my own life. The walls started coming down. I felt the trust, and that's when I started to speak from my heart. We became a family. It's a connection unlike any other I've ever experienced in my life. I've come to trust that my mentors really do care for me and my group."

"The Open Doors Scholarship Program came to me at a time in my life when I'm struggling hard to understand who I want to be. I feel overwhelmed by all the decisions I have to make and all that I still don't know," said a student, Ebony Palacios, during the June 2013 graduation from the Open Doors Program.

"Thankfully, going to the theatre with Open Doors has given me a safe place to sort this all through. I'm encouraged to ask questions and not know the answers and have this be ok. Through the shows I've seen, the characters on stage have taught me valuable lessons I can apply to my own life. These lessons have given me a sense of hope and direction during this stressful senior year."

CBS correspondent Mo Rocca, who is also a panelist on NPR's hit weekly quiz show, "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" as well as the host and creator of the Cooking Channel's "My Grandmother's Ravioli," who spoke with Latin Post in an earlier interview about his Colombian and Italian roots, was a mentor for Open Doors for seven years. It was both an enriching and eye-opening experience for Rocca, who also sees the economic hurdles that can limit a teen's exposure to theatre.

"There are economic challenges with Broadway. The theater prices are very expensive. So it's very difficult to cultivate an audience when they're going to have to pay over $100 for a ticket. You are asking them to come. So I think drawing a Latin audience is hard in part because of the economics of it," he said.

There's "not a great tradition of Latino-themed Broadway shows. Hence, there are not a lot of Latino audiences for Broadway shows," Rocca said, but he also pointed out that there are producers who want to change that. "Lin-Manuel Miranda is so talented and amazing and that was kind of a cultural breakthrough." He also noted of the success of John Leguizamo, who has many stage performances under his belt, as well as the popular Broadway show, "In The Heights."

During his time as a mentor Rocca said "'12 Angry Men,' a play about justice did very well. The kids connected with it."

Open Doors Program Supervisor Patricia Bruno, who also help create the program with Wasserstein and TDF's former Education Director Marianna Houston in 1998, spoke to Latin Post about Open Doors.

According to Bruno, who was also a high school English teacher, Latinos and African-Americans make up 60 to 65 percent of the Open Doors Program. The students have "little or no exposure to the arts," yet when they are done with the program, they gain "confidence and a cultural experience."

Buno also pointed out that having "a high-caliber" of "multi-faceted" actors, playwrights, choreographers and directors as mentors "enriches the students' experiences."

"He was an absolute joy," Bruno said of Rocca.

Besides the students' exposure to captivating Broadway shows, such as "Newsies," "Kinky Boots, "Twelfth Night" and "The Glass Menagerie," as well as "In the Heights," what impact does each mentor really have?

Open Doors' student Palacios said it best. "I'd like to thank Aubrey Lynch for being a soothing voice of reason. He always encouraged us to have faith in ourselves. He'd say, 'You are the ones who can change the world and there's no better time than now to make that change.'  How can you not feel good when someone has so much faith in you?"

Check out a touching video featuring the Theatre Development Fund's Open Doors featured on WABC-TV Eyewitness News back in 2011.