This is the second blog installment for Williams Syndrome Awareness Month. This blog highlights Alex and Andrew.
Alex grew up in nearby Granby, and from a young age, he aspired to be a college student at BHMA. The thought of going to school and not being the only one with a disability appealed to him. These days, Alex, 21, is thriving at his dream school, and is set to graduate from BHMA’s Two-Year Certificate Program in just a matter of days. Alex has Williams syndrome (WS), which as his curiosity led him to discover, is a genetic deletion of chromosome 7. When asked what it is like to live with WS, he describes it as complex, and goes on to say that he does not want to tone down who he is. In light of this, music helps him with the intricacies of living with WS, and with being himself.
Alex has a strong passion for DJing. He has taken DJ lessons with Music Instructor Dirk, and dreams of eventually becoming a DJ and having his own record label. A lover of hard dance music, Alex plans on making his dream a reality by becoming a part of the new Music Career Management program offered at BHMA—promising to help him with everything from technique, to booking performances. Outside of his DJing, Alex is very musically involved at BHMA. He takes weekly drum lessons, in addition to being a member of chorus and the second-year Music & Human Services (MHS) group. MHS allows him to perform at area nursing homes, and has sparked his interest in giving speeches about his life with WS. His MHS instructor Adrienne Salmon writes of Alex, “He takes feedback so well, and is always willing to improve his already stellar DJ and vocal skills. He is an essential member of our MHS class.”
One of Alex’s pride points is his work ethic, and his ability to accomplish tasks. This has helped him during his time at BHMA, as he has learned important life skills like how to cook and how to cooperate with people. His diligence also proved useful when he was recently a cast member in “Shrek The Musical,” put on by Amherst Leisure Services Community Theater. Though participating in the play meant long hours, it was a very gratifying experience for him. Alex, now a day student, will transition to living at BHMA residentially after graduation, and will thus be setting the stage for even further growth. Described as “a fantastic person” by Salmon, Alex is a calm and friendly presence who offers so much to the BHMA community. As a last thought, Alex mentions he wants to increase understanding about Williams syndrome, and encourages people to get to know him to start the process.
When he sits down for his interview, Andrew, 21, has with him three books about sewing that he just checked out of the library. Though he does not yet know how to sew, he intends to learn. A fan of professional wrestling, Andrew “is presently working with staff to make a wrestling mask with custom colors and fabric he picked out at the mall,” says his Residential Advisor Jakob Palches. Andrew is passionate about finishing the mask, which will serve as a visual mark of his progress and his commitment to accomplishing a creative and personally meaningful task. In many ways, the wrestling mask symbolizes the culmination of the strides Andrew, who has Williams syndrome, has made as a first-year student.
“It’s gone good,” says Andrew, simply summarizing his time at BHMA. He goes on to recount the challenges he has encountered, and the victories he has achieved since August. Andrew admits it has been difficult to be away from his family in Breezy Point, New York, and that the class Banking & Budgeting was hard for him. In spite of this, he recognizes that these experiences helped to further him along his path to independence. Andrew’s tenure at BHMA has been filled with positive moments—from serving as the basketball team’s point guard in the Special Olympics tournament, to making chocolate chip cookies in Baking Club, to being honored at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts for his volunteer contributions. Another highlight for Andrew is participating in Boltwood, as it has allowed him to spend time with UMass students every Tuesday. It has also provided him the opportunity to practice what he loves most: DJing. As one of Andrew’s main interests while at BHMA, he routinely works on his DJ craft with Dirk. He has showcased his skills at Variety Hour, and he claims his long-term goal is to continue DJing. Speaking of Andrew’s DJing feats thus far, Palches writes, Andrew "has produced several upbeat-dancy soundscapes featuring other musicians from the academy.”
Andrew is an endearing presence at BHMA. When asked about the skills he has learned, he speaks about the importance of being kind to others. His statement is reflected by words from staff members who work closely with Andrew, including Clinician Maddie Mercier. As she describes, “Andrew is always the first person to greet you with a big smile on his face, and ask how you are doing.” A big fan of the New York Mets, an animal lover, and a self-proclaimed good dancer, Andrew embodies the spirit of BHMA’s mission. He is supportive of his friends, compassionate, and enthusiastic. Palches labels his time advising Andrew as a privilege, a sentiment that is echoed by everyone at BHMA. Andrew can accomplish anything he sets his mind to—wrestling mask and real-life task alike.