Kimberly Furness receives a $7,500 donation from Royal Neighbors of America to continue the Curtainbox Theatre during a presentation made Saturday in Davenport. (Jeff Cook/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Jeff Cook

Kimberly Furness had been in the process of restructuring some of the programs at her creation, The Curtainbox Theatre Co. in the Village of East Davenport.

The changes would have affected one of her pet projects, acting classes for children with autism.

But a sudden, surprise infusion of cash to the tune of $7,500, a gift from Royal Neighbors of America,  has the 40-year-old actress, teacher, director, producer and St. Ambrose University graduate thinking of restructuring in a whole different way.

“I may be able to hire some teachers,” Furness said after the presentation Saturday at St. Ambrose’s Galvin Fine Arts Theatre. “Certainly, I want to get St. Ambrose students majoring in speech pathology involved.”

Mary Staver, director of human resources at Royal Neighbors, said the money was provided through the organization’s Nation of Neighbors Program that was launched in 2007.

Each year, Royal Neighbors members and sales agents across the country are asked to nominate individuals they know who want to change their lives for the better. A panel reviews each nomination and determines the recipients and the amounts awarded.

Standing before a full house at the theatre to see the show “Dakota Jones and the Search for Atlantis,” Staver said she hopes the money will allow Furness to “continue to expand the theatre and share the love of what you do for the Quad-Cities.”

The presentation was a total surprise to Furness, who cried during the presentation and for about half an hour afterward.

Furness graduated from St. Ambrose in 1996, then moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue an acting career. She returned to the Quad-Cities in 2006, thinking her acting was over until friends encouraged her to perform in local productions, such as at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island.

She opened The Curtainbox Theatre Co. in 2006 to continue an acting program she had begun while she was in California.

Furness said she was asked by a friend, a speech and language pathologist, to begin some classes for autistic students as part of her acting program, and it has become a favorite project.

“It is amazing the progress these kids make in such a short time,” Furness said. “I usually keep the classes at from five to 10 students. The parents are incredibly supportive.”