LANSING, Mich. — Life is all about finding your groove and celebrating it, and that’s exactly what the Eric "RicStar" Music Therapy Camp is designed to do, giving people with disabilities the opportunity to find their musical expression and let it shine.
The camp was started 20 years ago by Dick and Judy Winter, who are originally from East Lansing, alongside, music therapist Cindy Edgerton.
The camp is named after Dick and Judy’s son Eric, who had Cerebral Palsy and found his love for music at age 3.
“That's where he really thrived," Dick said. “He came alive with taking the music therapy working with Cindy Edgerton at Michigan State in the community music school, and he just loved it!”
Until his death at the age of 12, Eric enjoyed and excelled at music, and his dream was to become a rock star.
“Music is powerful. We all go somewhere when we listen to our favorite music, whatever that might be. We have memories. We have these wonderful things that happen that we remember; we remember the words," Judy said. "Think about it. We still may remember a Beatles song from years and years ago. Music is incredibly powerful, and it is used as a therapeutic tool.”
21-year-old Jimmy, and his 19-year-old sister, Bridgette, have been attending RicStar camp for more than 15 years.
Both Jimmy and Bridgette have autism.
Jimmy and Bridgette’s mom, Shelley Mullen, says the camp has made a huge difference in the family’s life.
“Jimmy has nonverbal autism, but he loves to sing. So, I say he is the most verbal, nonverbal child I've met. However, there are a lot of them out there. And he will hum to every song. When he can look back at those videos, he can relive camp, and he will talk about this camp every day," Mullen said. "I remember the first year I attended camp with Jimmy and Bridget. It was at another venue, a church, and we had to walk up steps to get into the building. And I felt such a sense of community. I remember sitting on those steps with tears just streaming down my face because, at age 4 and 6, which is what the children were, I felt so loved such a sense of community. I looked around me I saw parents who were experiencing the same things. I saw the support we had from Dick and Judy and from Cindy, and they were happy tears because I finally felt like we had found a place to come yearly.”
Camp co-founder and music teacher Cindy Edgerton says music helps with self-expression.
“What we're doing is we're using music and using their interests to help them. It helps with non-musical skills, vocalizations, with communication, because of all the singing and, and even all talking back and forth interactions," Edgerton said. "A lot of individuals, especially in the past three years, haven't had much interaction with their friends."
Judy says the camp is a place to discover joy.
“When they when we crossed the threshold here, everybody's equal. And we work so hard to make sure whatever your challenge might be (because we all have them) that we figure out a way to help them succeed in a way they've never been given before," Judy said. "And it is again the power of music, the joy of music, that brings us how that's the glue that brings us all together. And that's what Eric would absolutely love.”
For spreading such a powerful message, we want to say thank you to Cindy Edgerton and Dick and Judy Winter for creating the Eric "RicStar" Music Therapy Camp, a place where everyone, and every ability, can find their groove and celebrate it!
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