AGENCY VISIT: Elephants for Autism
Elephants for Autism Samantha Steindl
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
EDUC 5321 Doctor Sebastian March 19, 2013
I. Demographics and Background
In a condensed apartment holds the making of granting a voice to children with Autism.
Jerry Ryan, the founder and director of Elephants for Autism, has been masterminding the project since May of 2012. The agency is composed of Jerry, Faith, the music teacher, ten scholarship students and countless bands who participate in the music festivals. Faith is the gift, which Jerry quotes as “godsend” to him. She directs the Ozan Music School, where she offers exclusive classes to children with special needs. Jerry is especially fond of Faith through witnessing her talents with his son, Jeremy. Jeremy is Autistic with a slim amount of verbal abilities only using cues to communicate. Music has opened up a new outlet for him. Jeremy memorizes and sings lyrics from the prompt of repetitive sound beats.
Jeremy is the spark of the whole operation. He blossoms through music. Jerry aspired to bestow onto other children the same chance to experience the love of music the way Jeremy does. Similar experience with only with three causes: no financial barriers, no pressure and to learn at their own pace. Hence sparks the beginning of an agency advocating for families and the connection of music.
The agency serves children with Autism from ages five to fifteen. The age scope is not a limit, for they are open to all ranges. The credentials to determine recipients of scholarship lessons are easier said than done. Jerry has a difficult time turning anyone down. Thus far, the children usually derive from single-family homes without the financial income to afford lessons. The selection process continues by searching for those children who use music as their only means of connection to the outside world. He desires for music to offer healing. Those currently in lessons come from all over the East Coast. Parents travel from Cape May to Philadelphia in order for their child to participate in Galloway, New Jersey. The majority of families learn about
Elephants for Autism by word of mouth and social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter). Parents are especially receptive by the difference in the type of music lesson. Most classes treat students like “herds” but with these classes, it is individualized. Capturing the monumental moments in the child’s life the family can share together.
Currently, Elephants for Autism is not 100% non-profit; for now Jerry says they are doing a “do it yourself” approach. At the three-day music festivals, the door proceeds go to scholarships. The upcoming festival will also have the option for audiences to purchase a two- disc CD with fifty global bands. Tracks are donated. The profits from that CD will benefit new and existing scholarships as well as providing new musical instruments.
The funding of Elephants for Autism and the music festivals stem from musicians, Jerry and the festival venues. Jerry has found it easy to discover musicians wishing to make a difference. Venues that have participated and continue to do so include Le Grand Fromage and the Boneyard in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Persistence is the key to keeping the agency in existence. The two most persistent he quotes as himself and Faith. Their vision will not stay just a dream, but a evolve into reality. He blames fate as a reason why their lives crossed to create this venture. Fate crossed the lives of two musically, passionate people.
II. Mission, Proud Moments, and Goals
Elephants for Autism Mission: To provide free music lessons to Autistic children and to heal through music.
Sadly, the mission is not being fulfilled at the moment. When Super Storm Sandy hit in October of 2012, Faith lost her current Galloway residency that belonged to her mother. After the storm, her mother passed. Faith returned to her home in California. She has been there ever since. Jerry feels that he may need to start fresh again, but this is just a temporary slow down. Jerry explains, “I do believe everything happens for a reason. This minor set back will only make the bond stronger between Faith and I as we prepare for a new beginning once again.” To fulfill their mission further, he hopes to become completely non-profit and network extensively.
Jerry is most proud of the number of musicians who support the agency. A dream come true was the three-day music festival in 2012. The amount of work involved is overwhelming and sometimes the feeling of impossible. Three days lead to a year of music lesson for ten children.
The dreams for the future of the agency are endless. A bigger school, performing arts center, rooms upon rooms of instruments, and a music library all indicating the ideas are boundless. In these new settings, students will be nurtured to learn freely at their own comfortable pace. Some schools with these components exist in the West and Northeast but nothing remotely close. The school is a part of a ten-year plan. In Jerry’s masterminding, this is the visualization of the school:
“Giants rooms filled with instruments where kids can just go in and play whatever they want. After school, they can hang out and be around music whenever they want. Almost like a boys and girls club for music. At the same time, teachers and volunteers involved to create live performances by the students for the parents. Bands and musicians dropping by from time to time to give lessons. So many things just come to mind and the possibilities are endless with what we can do with this school while keeping it totally organic. Never would we be concerned about profiting financially off a special needs child.”
Needless to say, the future dreams are not impossible. The motivation behind Elephants for Autism is contagious.
III. Personal Impressions
To speak with the founder and director of an agency that has only been running for less
than one year is impressionable. It is the beginning period, trying, believing and fighting period. The passion is evident. Jeremy is a sweet, exciting, and an adventurous young boy. He could spark change in the world of any person. To twist that change the way Jerry has done is something we do not all possess.
Personally, I do believe Elephants for Autism is achieving their mission of providing free music lessons to autistic children. The agency has ten children who engage in music lessons. I understand they are at a halt because of the terrible circumstances Faith encountered, loosing her mother and New Jersey residence. The majority of people are never satisfied completely with the performance they are doing. Most constantly see the better they can do to improve any situation. Therefore, that is why I believe Jerry was honest in stating how Elephants for Autism was not achieving what they set out to do. To heal through music is another aspect of the mission, which I cannot judge because I did not view a music lesson. Although watching videos of Jeremy sing causes me to tear up seeing how it is a verbal outlet to the child.
Funding can be a sticky situation. With our current economic state, it is lifting to see numerous people are willing to donate time, music and money to improve the lives of others. At a certain point, I do suppose Elephants for Autism should investigate in sponsors from larger corporations who have allotted money to give back into the communities.
Jerry has incredibly large dreams for the future of Elephants for Autism. Illimitable dreams show faith and determination in what one is doing. By Jerry stating his intentions of “never would we be concerned about profiting financially off a special needs child” shows his integrity in waiting to be non-profit in order to not take from others. It will be thrilling to see what the future holds for this agency.
Upon entering a partnership with families, it is essential to be knowledgeable of
community resources. A family outing to the Elephants for Autism three-day music festival may not be appropriate for all ages, however a good night out for parents to support a cause. Families are in search of activities for children to engage in and music classes could be an option. Since this is a scholarship program, I would recommend my families of lower socio-economic statuses to apply. Families that are of higher socio-economic statuses, I would recommend them to visit the Ozan Music School. If finding the environment to be beneficial to the success of the child, possibly enroll their child in classes. Music can be healing to anyone, regarding if they have special needs or not. Therefore, this could be a joint activity for parents, siblings, and child to heal any holes speaking through the universal language of music.
A considerable transition in the life of a child with special needs is to post-secondary services. In accordance with IDEA laws, families and professionals must establish a plausible plan with measurable goals. If through these music classes, the child gains a passion for any particular instrument and music; this could be integrated into the plan. Whether it is working at a music store, continuation of music classes or an occupation involving music. Finding the passion of a child with special needs is fundamental to adding to their beautiful, courageous life.