Fostering Musical Expression and Creativity

When Judy Winter started RicStar's Camp in 2003 to provide opportunities for musical expression for individuals with disabilities, she knew firsthand the important and life-changing impact that music therapy can have on children and families impacted by disabilities. As a mother to a son with cerebral palsy, who had an acute talent for music, and author of the book, "Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations," Judy has dedicated her life advocating for music therapy opportunities for children and adults with disabilities.

Under the Community Music School Music Therapy Clinical Services Program, part of the College of Music at Michigan State University, RicStar's Camp provides opportunities for musical expression, enjoyment and interaction for all people with disabilities and their siblings. Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this spring, RicStar's Camp has provided hundreds of kids and adults with the opportunity to experience the power of music and performance.  

Judy founded RicStar's Camp in the spring of 2003 following the death of her son, Eric, earlier that year. "Eric passed away when he was 12 years old and we wanted to do something to honor his memory," said Judy. "Music helped him achieve things that people never thought he would be able to achieve. Through music, Eric truly found his voice, his passion and his motivation. He also always wanted to go to summer camp, which is a difficult feat for many children with disabilities. We decided to combine the two to honor his legacy and his remarkable life."

RicStar's Camp was created to provide a place for people of all ages and abilities to come together and experience the powerful impact of music. The activities offered run the gamut from dance lessons, to one-on-one sessions with certified musical therapists, to musical guest performances and even sessions with therapy dogs. "We immerse our campers in music therapy and movement to try and foster the innate ability in each one of our participants. Our goal has always been to try and bring out the best in everyone." 

While RicStar's Camp welcomes individuals with disabilities and their siblings, its BuddyUp program also pairs campers with their peers without disabilities. "It's the music that brings everybody together and allows everyone to be equal. And most of the time, we find that the campers without disabilities will leave here learning the most, with a greater sense of acceptance."

At the end of each camp, campers get to celebrate their achievements in the "Be A Star Showcase" and perform in front of their family and friends. For many, this is their first opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a live crowd. "I love watching each camper perform - whether they are playing an instrument, dancing or singing - but one of my favorite parts is witnessing the families that rush to the stage with their cameras and camcorders - so proud to capture the amazing moment of their children performing on tape."

In 2003, the inaugural RicStar's Camp had 46 campers. Ten years later, the camp now serves nearly 100 campers. "I've seen some of the most amazing things over the past ten years. I've had a camper, who was previously immobile, stand up for the very first time. I've witnessed adults that had difficulty speaking their entire lives leave our camp able to verbalize their thoughts. And one of the most rewarding experiences is when we see the returning campers' progression every year."

If you're interested in registering for the 2012 camp - from June 14 to June 16, act now because spaces are filling up quickly. Additional information can be found here.

"Our ten year anniversary means we've been able to make so many positive experiences through music therapy for a full decade. It's a bittersweet feeling, but it's the best decision I've ever made. We've opened up a lot of families to the knowledge and power of music therapy, and we've never looked back. What we've been able to achieve - we call it magic. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been magical."