Cultural Center seeks funding for music therapy program

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First Coast Cultural Center and its Sound Connections Music Therapy program are seeking funding to continue helping children with disabilities from six public schools in St. Johns County.

The schools are Cunningham Creek Elementary, Valley Ridge Academy, PVPV/Rawlings, Ocean Palms Elementary, along with The Webster School and Osceola Elementary, which are Title I schools.

According to Donna Guzzo, First Coast Cultural Center’s executive director and CEO, it is imperative for funding and contributions to continue the Sound Connections Music Therapy program. Some funding has gone away due to the pandemic and donors re-focusing their giving to homelessness or food pantries.

Since 2006, program classrooms have been donated for students in preschool to fifth grade to participate in music therapy, however income to compensate therapists, supplies and trainings must be generated for continuation of services.

For a reasonable fee, children and teens can work individually with a board-certified music therapist to maximize their potential through engaging music experiences. Clinic therapists provide a wide range of services including adapted piano, guitar and ukulele lessons, among others for more than 400 children in Exceptional Student Education classrooms.

“The impact of music on these students is evident,” said Candice Sirak, who serves the two Title I schools. “They respond and relate to the music, and even on days when they don’t want to do ‘work,’ they happily join in music therapy and accomplish the same goal. They find it easy to work on social skills while dancing or playing instruments. They seem more focused after a session and are ready to learn. Many of these students don’t have resources outside of school, and it is so gratifying to see them flourish because of the additional resources we provide.”

“We have reached out to several foundations that have helped us in the past,” said Guzzo. “We have reached out to the school district to inquire about grants or other possibilities to facilitate the program, since we are servicing as early as Head Start. We are waiting to hear back as deadlines are approaching on July 1 to have therapists funded and placed for the 2022-23 school year.

Guzzo said that, without additional funding, some changes will have to be made, and the children will be impacted.

“An alternative is to hold the classes as an afterschool enrichment program for 90 minutes per class, only once a week, and have it be a self-funded program paid for by parents while hiring part time therapists for each semester,” she said. “Only parents in the northwest part of St. Johns County and in Ponte Vedra Beach responded affirmatively.”

Guzzo holds a wide variety of fundraisers each year to support Sound Connections Music Therapy and additional programs and services with the major event each winter.

At a recent membership drive, guests learned about music therapy and were encouraged to donate. Also, the nonprofit’s popular Holiday Shoppes during the Christmas season and the upcoming 3rd Annual Beaches A Celebration of the Arts gala event on May 15 help to benefit educational programs at First Coast Cultural Council.

For more information, contact Guzzo at dguzzo@firstcoastculturalcenter.org or 904-280-0614, ext. 1201.

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