Rex grantee Voices Together uses the power of music to help participants build confidence and express themselves.
“Imagine a chorus of individuals with autism and other developmental challenges expressing their feelings, sharing who they are, and forming a supportive community. Imagine them on stage singing, playing instruments and looking beautiful in their choral attire, presenting themselves appropriately and feeling proud of what they have accomplished and getting the applause they deserve.
“This,” says Yasmine White of Voices Together, “is our work product.”
A Rex Foundation grant recipient in 2008, the North Carolina organization serves children and adults with autism and other developmental challenges throughout the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. The nonprofit group, which works in both community and school settings, uses music and interactive songs to teach and reinforce essential speech, communication and social skills using the structure of a chorus. “Since speaking and singing engage different parts of the brain,” White explains, “individuals who are challenged by the process of initiating speech often respond very positively to rhythm and song. Interactive songs are used to teach and practice asking and answering questions, understanding and expressing thoughts and feelings, and listening to others.”
One music therapist reports a student’s progress in the program: “When Jennifer started the Voices Together program, her voice was barely audible, she never asked questions, and spoke in one- or two-word phrases. Jennifer responded quickly to the program and songs and was always one of the first hands up to lead an activity. Through the cueing and expectation of the interactive songs, Jennifer now initiates questions and speaks at a volume her peers can hear and interacts with her peers and the group 50% more than when she started. Her self-esteem and language skills have grown immensely.” A teacher says: “I have seen a huge increase in the verbal production in one of my non-verbal students. He is producing initial sounds of a word with ever-increasing frequency, and we are even getting a few two-syllable words! Voices Together has given him a voice!”
White founded Voices Together in 2005, serving nine individuals in her basement. Today, the group serves nearly 400 people in the area, through 12 community groups, three public school districts and two community colleges.
The grant from Rex was instrumental in this growth. “In our effort to reach as many students as possible, we bring private funding to the table to supplement each [school] system’s tight budget,” White says. “In part due to the generous support of the Rex Foundation in 2008, Voices Together was able to enter its second school district, Orange County.
“Because of our success the first year in those schools, Voices Together was contracted for a second year, where we work with two middle school classes and two high school classes. Our innovative technique has been indispensable to the teachers we work with, and the program directly supports the school curriculum. This year the school district was moved to find the funds to pay for a much higher portion of our program’s cost.
“Our ability to reach more students and maintain this vital programming was vastly enhanced by the generous grant from the Rex Foundation: despite drastic cuts to North Carolina’s school budgets we have opened programming in a third school district this year and the outcomes all around have been excellent!”