By Mike Henn
Golden Valley High School provided the venue for Summer Meltdown last Saturday – a concert put together by students in the YES I CAN program for those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. From the moment I pulled into the amphitheater parking lot I heard the bass speakers thumping and saw sky lights pierce the night. I couldn’t help but get sucked in by the positive energy.
As I approached the check-in table my suspicions were confirmed. Fists were pumping in the air-girls were screaming -it’s like a real concert! I introduced myself and was immediately led to Matt Tapia, a YES I CAN instructor’s assistant. Tapia, a seven year veteran with the program, said “teaching life skills to the students by the students is what this program is all about. We teach them how to take someone else’s perspective and help them to build their self esteem. This event gives them something to embrace and possibly a different lens to see things through.”
Ready for more, I coasted to the top of the theater to take some photos and ingest all that was going on around me. I could see that this was more about what the students had accomplished together than the actual concert itself. I saw no stereotypical boundaries, just common ground … the enjoyment of music. Clustered among the working students were teachers and family members, however, most of the management and some stage labor was being carried out by the students in the program.
After getting past my only hurdle of the evening, a large wall of muscle … security, I made it backstage to talk with some students and parents. Before I could get pen in hand, I was surrounded by a dozen students, mostly from Canyon and Golden Valley High Schools. They all agreed that this program has helped them to not feel like outsiders and gives them the opportunity to reach out to a peer, whether it’s a student mentor or an instructor.
Ariel and Jessica, two of the more outspoken students added, “We are having so much fun! It’s been an amazing night!”
I wanted to know how they felt about their teacher.
“Our teacher, ‘Miss L’ (Lisa Lamedman, an instructor from Canyon) has helped guide us and prepare us for this concert tonight but more importantly she has helped us come together as a group. Sometimes if we need someone to talk to about a difficult social situation outside the classroom, Miss L allows us access to her by e-mail and sometimes by phone.”
Colleen Fairbanks, the mother of a graduate of the program couldn’t contain her enthusiasm: “I do this every year and I love it! This is one of the most dynamic things these kids can do to prove themselves, she said. “What Bret Lieberman (YES I CAN program director) and the Lieberman family have done for Autism awareness and working with these kids that have Asperger’s is phenomenal. When they graduate from this school they are ready to go on!”
“The whole process behind the concert started months ago with the students doing 100% of the work,” said Alexis Gavin, a senior and program mentor at golden Valley who was stage managing the concert. “We called and e-mailed numerous companies for sponsorships and donations, called record labels and producers, got bids from event type companies, reviewed local talent, the sort of things a regular concert needs. The program itself has helped me to keep an open mind and has given me a different outlook on life. I don’t use bad or negative remarks and I have become more thoughtful of others feelings.”
“I recently got to mentor Marisa, a sophomore, who had trouble adjusting here at school. Initially she felt overwhelmed by the whole process and isolated herself from others. During the program she began to open up to me more, became more trusting of the group setting and ultimately had fewer stress-related tantrums. Just recently, feeling she had better control over her disability, she signed up for the Special Olympics and brought home several gold medals.”
As the last band, “The Dirty Heads,” was ending their set, I went searching for the man behind the Meltdown concept. Like any consummate promoter, Bret Lieberman was hard to track down. I finally caught up with him in the green room where he was hanging out with Shwazye, concert headliners.
“It’s been an amazing night. Shwayze and Cisco are the most real people I have ever had the pleasure to work with and without a doubt, the kids are having a great time and I can’t wait until next year.”
The YES I CAN program reaches beyond the disabilities to give students a much needed outlet. In challenging and difficult times this was a definite highlight for their months of hard work.
For more information about the YES I CAN program go to www.summermeltdown2009.com.