By: Sharon Aron Baron
It’s early Saturday morning and while most teenagers are sleeping in after a week of waking up at the crack of dawn, the volunteers at Tomorrow’s Dreams Today don’t want to let their new friends down.
After all, they’re counting on them.
This select group of teens are sacrificing their Saturday mornings to work with children with special needs.
Tomorrow’s Dreams Today was founded by Parkland resident Jeb Niewood, an Attorney for the State of Florida who is a long time advocate for people with special needs. Rock dreams is their music program which is run in coordination with Coral Springs School of Rock and engages special needs kids in the art of music.
About an hour after set-up, the children and teens come piling in. Nirvana music is playing loudly and the teen volunteers – which are known as “Roadies” are motivating their incoming “Rock Stars” by dancing and clapping. This is their morning to shine.
Mykayla, 11, from Greenacres has Smith-Magenis syndrome which is a developmental disorder with mild to moderate intellectual disability, delayed speech and language skills, sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems. Her mother Rosa Farrington said her daughter Mykayla has formed a special bond with her volunteer Emily Mitchell.
“She loves it, she absolutely loves it. She loves that she has the same volunteer assigned to her every weekend and she’s bonded and formed a connection with her.”
Mykayla never stopped dancing during the hour-long program and was always engaged with the microphone in her hand or dancing with Emily.
“She loves music. It’s always been her outlet at home,” said Rosa.
Michaelle Prevalus from North Lauderdale says her son Javon’s favorite part of the program are the drums. Javon, 5, has microcephaly which is a neurological disorder in which the circumference of the head is smaller than average causing delayed motor and speech functions.
Michaelle says her son loves the program and she’s always looking places where she can take her son for music. She said that Javon is non-verbal and repeats what she says. “He repeats the word ‘music’ when I mention it.”
Vickie and Paul Landers drove from Lake Worth with their son Ben who has autism. Ben, 18, took to the microphone singing, playing the guitar, and then later moved over to the drums.
“He loves it,” said Vickie. “This is his first full session and it has been great.”
President Jeb Niewood has spent the past twelve 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 Tomorrow’s Dreams Today 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. 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. Later this year he said they will be adding a third program which will be an art therapy program.
“The volunteers are energetic, loving and compassionate. There is a real bond that forms between the kids and the volunteers.”
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.
Vickie said that Ben usually doesn’t like to go anywhere. “But every Saturday, he’s up and ready to go.”
If you are a teen and would like to volunteer for service hours or would you like to donate to this 501c3 nonprofit, contact JNiewood@aol.com