by Debbie Gaylord
Photograph by Kim Kirk Photography
Even though my son Jake cannot speak, when I turn on music he begins to dance and sway and his face reflects a deep happiness. Jake has autism and was a student at Cunningham Creek a few years ago when he participated in a Music Therapy program there. Each week, Minda Gordon, music therapist for the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra, would visit the classroom and work with the kids as a group. At the end of the year the students performed a concert that proved there was something magical happening in St. Johns.
Thanks to the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, young people with special needs at elementary schools here are receiving the benefits of Music Therapy. This amazing local program began with a small pilot, music therapy at Cunningham Creek Elementary School, with just 10 hours a week with Minda Gordon. A fund raising team consisting of a compassionate staff and board of directors at the Cultural Center, and a generous major donor, The Woodcock Foundation for the Appreciation of the Arts, Inc made it possible. Nine years later and still fully funded through the Cultural Center, the program has flourished to serve music therapy for 32 hours a week and serves over 900 children.
A relatively new approach, music therapy provides a way for students who find it difficult to communicate to express themselves through music. According to the Music Therapy Association, research supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.
Children with special needs often face challenges with auditory processing, sensory-motor, fine motor skills and self-expression, all of which are improved through listening to, playing and singing music.
The Cultural Center’s Music Therapy Program for St. Johns County is now in four public elementary schools including Rawlings, Ocean Palms, Ponte Vedra/Palm Valley and Valley Ridge Academy in addition to Cunningham Creek, the hub school in SJC for children with special needs. Since the program's inception in 2006, the overall goal has been to ensure music therapy as an integral part of the curriculum for children with special needs. Dedicated Cultural Center board member and Principal at Ocean Palms, Jessica Richardson has witnessed the benefits of the program first hand. “I have seen students who are easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, settled by music. I have watched students who are non-verbal come to life through learning to play the piano or a hand drum. The Cultural Center has actively pursued the expansion of Music Therapy in our schools because they too recognize the positive impact this program can have in the lives of the students in our community.”
The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra will present its fall event benefiting the Music Therapy Program on October 17th at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. The concert features Deborah Henson-Conant, a GRAMMY nominated recording artist, in her debut performance on the First Coast, wielding a chrome 32-string "HipHarp" designed and invented exclusively by her. "She's the Jimi Hendrix of the harp!" says rock legend Steve Vai. You've never heard anything like HipHarp.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.ccpvb.org . For more information, please contact Toni Boudreaux at 280-0614 ext. 202 The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization located at 50 Executive Way, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida 32082 with a tax ID# ID# 59-3238148. A portion of the proceeds will directly benefit Music Therapy for Children with Special Needs outreach program.
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