S T U D E N T S T O R I E S
KRISTEN VAN HANDEL
Class of 2011
Shortly after graduation I took part in the Best Buddies Hyannis Port bike ride for the second year in a row. I was thrilled to give the kick-off speech at the 50-mile start, and then my Dad and I rode a tandem bike all 50 miles! Back home in Wisconsin I volunteered with a music therapist and had fun working with young children with disabilities. I also had a great summer internship at the ManpowerGroup world headquarters. My responsibilities included greeting visitors, escorting them to their appointments, and helping give tours of the facility. I am back at BHMA for one more year in the ELC program. I continue to get a great range of vocational experience working in the Music and Human Services field, in the office, and giving tours to prospective students. BHMA is amazing, and it has given me confidence, life skills, music and wonderful friendships.
Class of 2009
I participate throughout the year in the Extended Learning Community (ELC) which offers graduates living on and off campus program options and vocational training. Some of my interests are being on the computer, watching television and spending time with friends. Originally from the Amherst/Northampton area, I live at 10 Meadow Lane, a BHMA house off campus, and go to the Academy every day for classes and other events. BHMA has helped me make new friendships and taught me about job training for the future. I have learned how to control the sound system for the BHMA Troupe, with the help of staff, and I travel with them. I also recently started a new job at Hampshire College Library. I like it here at BHMA. It’s a lot of fun making music and living off campus.
Class of 2011
I am 21 years old and from Franklin, Massachusetts. When I came to BHMA after high school I felt nervous and scared. At first I felt it was not going to work out. I said “no” to every question. I went home every weekend because I missed my family and my hometown. Then, after the winter break, I started to say “yes” to the staff when they asked me what activities I wanted to participate in, and I started staying on the weekends. It was a little hard getting used to having a roommate, but the staff helped us work out our issues and today we are good friends. At BHMA I learned social skills and feel proud of what I accomplished in my performances and at fieldwork. I want to thank my family for making it possible for me to come here. I am returning to continue my studies.
Class of 2003
John graduated in the inaugural class, and remains connected to BHMA as a member of the Extended Learning Community (ELC) and the Performance Troupe. John plays a number of instruments, but clarinet and saxophone are his favorites. He has always shown a love of music, and acquired a good preparation with private lessons, the high school band, and music courses at a community college. BHMA has made possible a musical career path for John - he has become a polished, working instrumentalist with many wonderful opportunities to travel and entertain. He likes the camaraderie of performing with varied ensembles, from the high-powered Troupe, to a classical trio, to a rock and roll band formed by alumni friends. The academics and life skills at BHMA gave him a great foundation for the next step. He says he learned that “math is everywhere.” John now lives an apartment, with a roommate, a short walk from BHMA. He receives some help with shopping, cooking, cleaning, and bill-paying, but is very proud of being in charge of his life. He has received three awards for volunteer service in the community. At Whole Children, an enrichment center for children of all abilities where he assists with summer and evening classes, he has become an admired mentor, cited for his work as “an ideal model of self-advocacy and independence.”
Class of 2012
Ben loves music and is quite musical. The joy that he derives from performing for others is palpable, and he was fortunate to have many opportunities to perform before entering the Academy. But watching Ben perform today is watching a different young man. Through the guidance he has received at BHMA, not only have his skills in all areas improved, but he is now becoming a “professional” – self- assured and appropriate in his introductions of pieces he will perform, the way he performs them, and even in the way he accepts applause. But for us, BHMA is about so much more than music. Ben’s cognitive profile and inability to focus for more than a few minutes in an academic setting put most post-secondary programs out of reach for him. Where others would not consider Ben, the staff at BHMA has welcomed him and worked tirelessly to understand how to use his strengths in music to help overcome some of the obstacles he faces in other areas on a daily basis. It hasn’t been easy, but Ben’s independent living skills are improving and he is taught in a way that makes him want to succeed. Perhaps most important of all, is the source of pride that BHMA has become to Ben, and the feeling to him that “the Academy is my other home.” For the first time in his life, Ben speaks about his “friends” at school and the eager anticipation we see in him, each time we approach the Academy following a vacation, makes it easy to justify having him so far away.
Class of 2007
This is my seventh year at BHMA—I go on gigs with the Troupe, having a lot of fun. I play pan pipes and also am a singer. Last summer I performed at the Visitor’s Center of the Tanglewood Music Center. For several years I had a Peruvian Trio, with BHMA friends accompanying me on guitar and bombo (Andean wooden drum). This year I am living in an apartment in Amherst with an aide who is helping me to become more independent. I take the bus to BHMA to join the Troupe three days a week. My plans are to get a part-time job and hopefully start to make money with my music. BHMA taught me things that I didn’t know how to do, like doing my laundry, how to get around the community safely and how to live with other people in a house and how to perform better.
Class of 2003
At BHMA I am achieving my dreams. I have grown as a singer, songwriter, and keyboard player and have had many wonderful musical experiences in the Performance Troupe and as a solo performer. And I have grown up—when I came to the Academy I was just a girl—now I live in a house near the school, where I am learning to do my own shopping and cooking. Highlights for me have been winning the 2007 Best Buddy American Idol Competition (and going to a taping of American Idol as a result), singing the national anthem at Fenway Park in 2009, recording my CD of three original songs, and performing with the Kandoo Band at Indiana University. At schools I tell the audiences that at BHMA we embrace diversity by treating everyone with respect even if they are different. This has made a world of difference in my life.
Class of 2007
BHMA helped me become a volunteer assistant at an elementary school last year. Now I work at two part-time jobs, my first paid positions. At Michaels in Hadley, an arts and crafts store, I unpack boxes and stock the shelves. At Atkins Farms in Amherst, I work in the candy department, pricing things using the scale and replenishing the jelly beans. Both jobs have helped me see what it is like to be in an actual work area and I am excited to be working. With these jobs I feel more confident. I live in South Hadley with a housemate and participate in Academy activities as part of the Extended Learning Community (ELC). I learned job skills at BHMA and through New England Business Associates (NEBA). BHMA helped me realize how important having a job is and it had me realize that I was ready for a paid job.