High school students in the metro area started a youth music program to encourage musicians with disabilities to express themselves through song and dance.
Founded in 2015 by Joanna Bai from Millard West and Carly Renken of Millard South, the nonprofit Nebraska Special Musicians has groups in Omaha, Kearney and now Bellevue/Papillion.
The age range for kids to attend is 3 to 21, and is free of charge.
Ryleigh Parrack, branch director for the NE Special Musicians in Bellevue/Papillion, started the group this year to get more Bellevue/Papillion musicians to join.
“I asked the founder if I could start a branch here so it would be more central to Bellevue and Papillion, and she went ahead and let me get started with it,” Parrack said.
Parrack, a senior at Papillion-La Vista South High School, said she has 10 students and about eight volunteers in the group, but hopes to expand like the Omaha/Millard group, which has around 70 members.
“As the summer session has started, we’ve grown a lot,” she said. “I want it to be a fun place for everyone to come to.”
Though not affiliated with the church, the Papillion/Bellevue Special Musicians meet every Sunday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at Thanksgiving Lutheran Church in Bellevue, 3702 S. 370 Plaza.
Parrack said the reason for starting NE Special Musicians was to help kids with disabilities become more accustomed to music, similar to how Special Olympics offers sports.
“Since we want to be an organization that is an outlet for people with intellectual and physical disabilities to be able to express themselves through music and not necessarily sports, we wanted it to closely match with Special Olympics Nebraska,” Parrack said.
“I personally don’t like to do sports, I’m a music person, so to have them be able to have an outlet, it’s important to promote it to try something new and meet new people.”
At the Sunday meetings, students have “sessions,” where they dance, play instruments, learn different music theories and learn two songs. At the end of the current session, Aug. 11, the group will have its seasonal performance.
Parrack said she likes the group because it’s inclusive of everyone and anyone.
“I believe everyone in the world deserves an equal opportunity to express themselves,” she said.
“Just because someone is different than you because their brain works differently or they look different from you, they still have the capability of being amazing and making my day every single Sunday. It’s heartwarming to see them having fun and gives them an opportunity to express themselves.”
NE Special Musicians can be found at sites.google.com/view/specialmusicians.