By: Sharon Aron Baron
It’s Saturday morning, and while most high schools students spend their day relaxing or texting with their friends, the dedicated teens at Rock Dreams are busy setting up a room inside the Coral Springs Charter School in anticipation for a high energy morning with their friends with special needs.
Rock Dreams is just one of the programs offered by The Friendship Initiative. Founded by Parkland resident and attorney Jeb Niewood, who is a long time advocate for people with special needs, Rock Dreams is a music program run in coordination with Coral Springs School of Rock which engages children and young adults with special needs in the art of music.
“Programs offered by The Friendship Initiative, currently Rock Dreams and Fit Friends, are open to all children and young adults with special needs regardless of diagnosis,” said Niewood.
About an hour after set-up, the “Rock Stars” come piling in, many meeting up with their favorite teen volunteer or “Roadies,” who spend the hour keeping them motivated by dancing and singing to high energy rock music by deejay Andrew Musselman.
Upon hearing one of their favorite songs, the Rock Stars will occasionally grab the microphone, perform on air guitar, or even play along on the drums or keyboard.
This is the fourth session for Mike Enlow’s son Michael, an eighth grade student at Ramblewood Middle School who on this day he was dressed up as an M&M for Halloween. “He loves it. He gets excited about coming every Saturday morning. He loves Max (volunteer) and is very happy to see him.”
President Jeb Niewood has spent the past thirteen years specifically developing fun, engaging, social activities because he believed there were not enough diversified programs for children and young adults with special needs in South Florida. He created The Friendship Initiative which provides a wide range of programs and projects tailored to engage and enrich the special needs population. The programs vary in specialties including the arts, music, fitness and education.
Besides Rock Dreams, there is also a Fit Friends program run in coordination with All 4 One Fitness, a local gym in Coral Springs where they have created an exercise, fitness and nutrition program that encourages cardiovascular health, strength training and healthy body image for both special needs kids and their peer trainers. Other programs are being developed.
Juan Velazquez said that his son Matthew, 20, who attends school at Marjory Stoneman High School, has enjoyed every minute of the program.
“Throughout the week he will talk about his upcoming ‘music class’ on Saturday. His smiles and giggles on the way to class are precious. He really enjoys playing the instruments, and takes the microphone to belt out his rendition of The Wheels On The Bus.”
Rock Dreams is held every Saturday morning at Coral Springs Charter School. Niewood credits Principal Gary Springer for allowing the program to flourish there, along with School of Rock’s Andrew Musselman, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors in Jazz Studies who donates his time as Creative Director.
“This program gives all of our special needs children a chance to enjoy music and play instruments they may not have had access to,” said Juan Velazquez. “The smiles on their faces along with the energy in the room are priceless.”
The Friendship Initiative is a 501c3 organization and can be found at: www.thefriendshipinitiative.org and at The Friendship Initiative on Facebook. If you are a teen and would like to volunteer for service hours; a parent who would like to obtain information about programs; or a sponsor or donor, contact JNiewood@aol.com