In the living room of a San Jose home with quiet company eagerly awaiting his weekly visits, Christian LaPaglia plays his acoustic guitar as he walks between two women and three men in wheelchairs, playfully acknowledging each one.
“Hi TJ,” he sings to one man, “nice to see you. He then kneels down to serenade another resident. “Hi Natalie, nice to see you,” he sings, and Natalie laughs.
Most people with severe developmental disabilities living in Life Services Alternatives’ homes scattered around Santa Clara County are unable to speak or walk. Some come from family homes where aging parents can no longer take care of them, while others come from orphanages. They can now live in a government-licensed home next door with 24/7 support.
“It’s amazing to see how people respond to a loving and caring environment,” said LSA Executive Director Dana Hooper. “Most of these people are non-verbal, but they communicate a lot – with smiles, facial expressions, blinking eyes. We often see growth that may have been held back by the environment they were in prior to arriving here. Our philosophy is that this should be a home to live in. “
The Campbell-based not-for-profit organization operates 15 state and federal-funded residences in the county, home to 70 people with disabilities with varying levels of assistance needs. Five of these homes are home to people who require frequent care and other support services, such as those offered at the home in San Jose, where LaPaglia provides a special type of care: music therapy.
Once a week, LaPaglia visits the house for an hour, plays the guitar, rings the xylophone, beats the drum, rings the bells and sings, starting with his personal greeting song and continuing with the tunes of the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, John. Denver and even Kermit the Frog.
“This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life, besides marrying my wife and adopting our daughter,” says 55-year-old LaPaglia from San Mateo, who is certified by the National Council of the Profession as a music therapist and has a degree in music education. at San Francisco State University.
“We’re looking for voluntary responses to music,” he says, “soft movement, eye tracking, vocalization and hopefully relaxation.”
For people who are in many ways blocked from others by autism, cerebral palsy or other medical conditions, music offers important social interaction through the experience of listening in a group and reaching out to them through the song LaPaglia. According to him, when he sings the names of residents, they and others can hear and feel that they are not alone.
The weekly classes give residents a reason to look forward to, says LSA Development Director Celia Morton. “Music is kind of a level playing field,” says Morton. “It’s just fun.”
Founded in 2002, this nonprofit organization began offering music therapy in 2019 and is seeking $ 10,000 from Wish Book to expand the program to all five homes with the most disabled. “We were overwhelmed by the impact,” says Hooper. “It stimulates them, improves their health, well-being and happiness.”
Music therapy, according to the Cleveland Clinic Academic Medical Center, is an evidence-based clinical treatment that can help people “psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively and socially.”
The treatment is especially valuable for the needy residents of LSA homes, Hooper said. Residents with less severe disabilities who live in the homes of some nonprofit organizations have a variety of excursion and extracurricular options, and may even have jobs. But for those living in five severely disabled homes, walks are more limited, and music therapy reveals an invaluable aspect of the outside world, Morton says. “It’s a way to broaden their horizons in a completely different way,” says Morton. “Although there are many medical problems, even if our residents do not live their normal lives, music affects them all.”
While the inner lives of these deeply disabled LSA residents may not be obvious, “they have a way of communicating their preferences and preferences to us, whether it’s a warm smile or an excited look,” says LSA program director Sharmine Heffernan. “We know how they feel.”
People with developmental disabilities – many of whom were born with cerebral palsy or autism, or have suffered catastrophic injuries – usually end up in LSA homes through referrals from schools as part of a program run by the State Department of Development Services.
For LSA, as for other healthcare facilities, the coronavirus outbreak has led to major disruptions and problems. Music therapy and outings were temporarily suspended, as were visits from family and friends, Hooper said. “The pandemic made it difficult for us to keep all the homes staffed, but we continued to work there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and the staff were amazing,” he says. In one house, he said, all five residents and all staff tested positive for the virus. Some of the employees were housed in LSA hotels, he said, which also encouraged employees to work overtime and overtime, and also attracted outside employees.
While rainfall from the pandemic is currently decreasing, the housing crisis in the Bay Area is creating ongoing challenges for the LSA, making it difficult to find and retain staff, Hooper said. “We see it all the time,” he says. “Sometimes it takes the form of someone leaving and going to go back to Ohio and live with their family, or they are going to move to Tracy and find work there.”
One LSA administrator, Joseph Lansana, has been with a nonprofit for 12 years and cannot imagine doing anything else. “This is a case where someone is completely, completely unable to help themselves get the most out of life,” says Lansana, an immigrant from Sierra Leone. “The help you give makes them happy and encourages them to participate in life itself – when that happens, I feel good.”
According to him, Lansana and other staff often play recorded music for residents, which makes them brighter. He hopes to see what LaPaglia can do for LSA residents who have never experienced the joy of listening to live music, just for them. The tenants he cares for tend to prefer softer tunes, but at one of the LSA houses in Campbell LaPaglia, you may need to add a song or two with harder notes to your repertoire. As Lansana notes, at least one of the residents – Katie Jacobs – loves AC / DC.
WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual Mercury News series that invites readers to help their neighbors.
The donation will support music therapy programs at five Life Services Alternatives homes for residents with special health care needs. Target: $ 10,000.
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail the coupon.
Read more stories from the Wishbook, view photos and videos at wishbook.mercurynews.com.