By Nicole Hennessy
Connecting for Kids – a Westlake-based nonprofit organization providing education, networking and support for families with concerns about their child’s development – hosted a networking event at the Don Umerley Civic Center on March 26.
Immediately upon entering the auditorium, filled with booths displaying information on topics ranging from ADHD to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo programs, the sound of drums bounced off the walls.
Past the candy and small toys stacked on tables containing otherwise parent-friendly information, in the back of the room, the sound linked to its source.
On the floor, all kinds of instruments, such as the sought-after drums and tiny guitars being strummed by a few children, waited for more tiny hands, while employees of the Music Therapy Enrichment Center answered parents’ questions.
Located in Westlake, the center works with children and adults of varying illnesses and disabilities. Music therapist Jaime Alspach explained that “music therapy, by definition, is working on nonmusic objectives like fine motor skills and language.”
Especially for children who have autism or problems with social skills, it draws them in because it’s appealing and fun.
“It helps form relationships where that might be difficult for some children,” she added. “But then through it, we might work on counting on the drum or working with a beat that pairs with language.”
By doing this, words kids may be having trouble with, when sung, become much easier to say. Small victories like this are encouraging to children experiencing difficulties.
“Connecting for Kids is amazing,” Alspach said as a small boy banged on a drum in the background, regardless of rhythm. “I think it’s the best resource for parents, especially in the West Side.”
Darrin Bright and his son, Grant, who came from Seven Hills for the event, surrounded themselves in instruments. Bright watched his son as he happily played.
Just then, another little boy ran past, going from booth to booth in search of toys while his mother walked quickly after him, having given up on scolding him for not standing still.
Past 44 tables, he ran in circles, each of them containing different information to serve local needs.
One of these tables is for a Lakewood-based organization called Matthew’s Lending Library.
The name is misleading. It’s not a library, though from it items are lent — equipment for handicapped children, to be specific.
“This is our 21st year,” Executive Director Vicki McCarthy said. “We raise funds within the community.”
Basically, any equipment needed, such as a wheel chair, multipositioning chair, specially adapted toys or even an adaptive tricycle, is given to a family until their child outgrows it. Then it is given to another family.
“We’ve got over 350 kids, and they come from all over Northeast Ohio,” McCarthy said.
This idea came from her son, Matthew, who died at the age of eight. He was born with a brain that was not fully developed.
She and her husband knew there was a need for this. Besides, she said, “it keeps me around the kids and it’s very rewarding.”
Among the other organizations are Abilities First, The Arc of Greater Cleveland, The Attention Center, the Beck Center for the Arts, Youth Challenge Sports, Rose-Mary Summer Camp and The Gathering Place.
For prospective members of Connecting for Kids, information on these and many other organizations geared toward enriching the lives of both parents and children is available on its website, connectingforkids.org.
With a few more hours left for people to wander the auditorium, more came than left. And the music from the back of the room continued to echo, as parents gathered information.