What If The Music Stopped?

I could hear strums of the guitar even before I entered the room. Her voice was reminiscent of Snow White’s. How appropriate it was when I rounded the corner and saw that she was surrounded by the littlest ones. They each had their mood. One little guy was particularly Clingy, another girl was Hoppy, one was Teary, one was Giggly and of course, there is always Bashful.

strumtheguitarKerry Blackburn, Music Therapist, works with children.

I knew this would be a memorable experience but I didn’t realize how much it would touch my heart. Kerri Blackburn, Music Therapist, spent her Monday mornings this fall at the Cleo L. Craig Child Development Laboratory (CDL) at Oklahoma State University. It was an honor to watch her use music as a tool to teach these young minds, starting as young as 12 months old.

I followed Kerri to her next class, Preschool II. The class toddled their tiny feet to the carpet. I watched as Physical Therapist, Chris, carefully wrapped up his session with Emi, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, so that she could join her friends. My eyes then met Devin’s. She lives with Down Syndrome. Kerri began to sing in her magical voice that harmonized with each strum of the guitar. She memorized their names and welcomed the children with a personalized song.

I was incredibly moved by the way the music brought light to each of the children. Music does not discriminate. Emi worked her little body so hard to stand with the rest of her class and dance with scarves to the music. Devin beat the drum with the help of her teacher and watched her friends with delight.

Early intervention programs, particularly music therapy and physical therapy, have been a part of the CDL curriculum since RISE integrated in 2010. The CDL is a teaching and learning program both for children and OSU students, it has received funding from the state legislature through a contract with the State Department of Education to partially support the operational costs of the school and programs.

It was in June of this year when Cleo L. Craig Child Development Laboratory (CDL) Administrative Director, Dianna Ross, was informed that due to drastic cuts in education, the funding for the RISE Program would be eliminated indefinitely by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Less than two months before the 2016-2017 Academic Year would begin, the faculty and staff wrapped their heads around not having early intervention programs available to their young students living with special needs.

I don’t have a child who lives with challenges. But I did. Our daughter lived for a short time. Her challenges were many and included Dandy Walker Syndrome, Tetralogy of Fallot, and Microvasular Lung Disease. She received many hours of therapy during her short life. Her hearing was never confirmed but therapists strongly encouraged that we play music, talk and read books to her. And so we did. Toward the end of her life, a musical toy hung in her crib. When she was having a hard time, we would turn on the music and she would become calm. Music was like a gift.

devindrums_lowCDL student, Devin, drums during Music Therapy.

My heart was tender. What I saw in these kids was hope and promise and future. I saw faculty who pour their lives into these children. I saw undergraduate and graduate students helping and learning so that they will go on to make a difference.

In an effort to find funding elsewhere, Dianna Ross reached out to Mya’s Promise, a local non-profit organization helping children living with special needs and challenges to shine by providing financial aid to attend early intervention programs. Typically, Mya’s Promise gives grants and scholarships directly to families to supplement their tuition payments. However, when approached with this opportunity to fund therapies, the Mya’s Promise Board of Directors voted a unanimous “yea”.

This Fall, Mya’s Promise granted the Cleo L. Craig Child Development Laboratory $44,000 to fund both Music Therapy and Physical Therapy to continue for the 2016-2017 school year.

Due to drastic cuts to education this year, children from Stillwater, Edmond, Guthrie, Morrison, Yale, Pawnee and more would have missed out on the gift of these therapies. Fortunately, Mya’s Promise exists thanks to many donors from our community and around the country. Because of these donations I witnessed Emi literally rise and shine. Music fed her little soul and gave her a great big confidence. She was working hard but it looked like play.

emidances_lowEmi, CDL student, dances to the beat of the music.

“We are grateful to Mya’s Promise for the generous gift that allowed children to receive therapies that otherwise would have been discontinued due to the drastic funding cuts from the Oklahoma Department of Education,” expressed College of Human Sciences Dean Stephan M. Wilson. “Their support over the years has provided opportunities to children and their families who especially benefit from the variety of unique therapies the child development lab offers. The generosity of volunteer and community organizations is not only heartwarming but vital when drastic funding cuts put our programs and children in peril.”

There is a reason 275 children are currently on the waiting list for the CDL. Both typically developing and those with challenges thrive in this space. What a beautiful collaboration it is for the CDL to help these children rise and Mya’s Promise to give them a chance to shine.

Learn more about how you can get involved with Mya’s Promise and make a difference today. Visit www.MyasPromise.org and on Facebook.