Disaboom Interview with Tressie Seegers, founder of The Austin Harmony Project
The Austin Harmony Project provides special needs citizens the opportunity to be involved in the arts. Harmony utilizes the arts as a natural means to positively stimulate and celebrate life, while giving each participant a deserved sense of well-being.
Disaboom: You are doing wonderful things at Harmony, and it appears that this could be a good model for other communities. How did Harmony Project get started?
Tressie Seegers: “I worked in the public school system, and saw a need for programs like this for young adults and adults with special needs. I began Harmony as a summer program, but went full-time in the summer of 2010.”
Disaboom: How does art and music help your special needs students?
Tressie Seegers: “So many times people with disabilities can’t express themselves verbally. They may have some condition that keeps them from communicating to others and so the art and the music gives everyone a voice. They are happier when they go home and the family is very appreciative for that.
”I have an 18-year-old student with mental disabilities. He’s had issues from not being able to express his anger properly. He has been locked behind his disability however he was born to be on the stage. At Harmony, he has been given a platform to express his gift of music. He gets to release all of the frustration and reap the many benefits that come with artistic self-expression. The Austin Harmony Project has made a big difference in Stevie’s life. Often you will find Stevie at my live music gigs around Austin, TX. He always gets to sing a few songs or even a whole set! He always has a smile because he is getting to do what he loves best.”
Disaboom: What are the ages of your students?
Tressie Seegers: “Our student ages range between 17 and 46.”
Disaboom: What is a typical day at Harmony?
Tressie Seegers: “We have around ten people every day for five hours. We start at 10 AM and do art in the morning. We discuss what projects we are going to work on. Some people like to work independently and others like to work on group activities. Everyone makes their own decision. Since many of our students are older, we try to do things that are more age appropriate. After art, we have lunch together and then music. We stop around 3 PM. During the school year we are also open on Saturday, so that the students who go to school can continue Harmony all year long. We just try to have as much fun as possible every day.”
Disaboom: Your mission statement says that Harmony fills the gap through an adaptive program. How would you describe your adaptive program?
Tressie Seegers: “We make adaptations for each participant, so let’s say, if someone can’t use their right hand, then we help them with whatever help they need to get the art done. We want them to participate as much as they physically can. Each individual has a special need, so we aid them in whatever way we need to so they accomplish their project.”
Disaboom: How much do your students pay to attend Harmony
Tressie Seegers: “There’s a $28 per-day-charge.”
Disaboom: What is your facility like?
Tressie Seegers: “We started out in a rented room at Akins High School but I needed to find a place where we could hold concerts and perform our music. I was driving around one day and saw the Community Renaissance Market, in a renovated old grocery story, and stopped. We began doing concerts there and eventually moved in. They worked with us on the rent, donating much of the space. The program would not be where it is today without someone donating part of our rent. They have enabled us to operate and grow and serve the community better.”
Disaboom: Do you have art shows and concerts?
Tressie Seegers: “Our location at the Renaissance Market is ideal for art shows and musical performances. In the past we’ve gone out in the community to restaurants and different venues and done live music. The kids and I play and the community is extremely supportive. Last year we did a live Christmas album at Waterloo Icehouse. We try to get out in the community as much as possible.”
Disaboom: I know that you are a songwriter, a musician and an artist. Do you have need of additional volunteers, and if so what skill sets would they need? Also, do you accept donations?
Tressie Seegers: “We do have need of additional volunteers experienced with special needs as well as donations. We are a 501c3 so any donation is a tax deduction. We have a complete list of needs available if anyone is interested in supporting the efforts at The Austin Harmony Project.
To read more about The Austin Harmony Project go to: http://www.theharmonyprojectaustintx.org/
To read more about The Community Renaissance Market, see Disaboom Article: http://www.disaboom.com/arts/harmony-school-makes-art-at-the-community-renaissance-market-austin-tx
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