Inclusion Festival Caters to Special Needs Through Creativity

As it appeared in the570

By Patrice Wilding

Leah Barron and Amy Pinder believe they were destined to help people with special needs through creative means.

The central New Jersey women each taught special education and incorporated non-traditional therapy techniques into their work with people with autism and various disabilities. They also happened to share a love for festivals, and when they met five years ago, they learned from their first conversation that they both held the same dream.

The 2018 Inclusion Festival happening Saturday, July 28, and Sunday, July 29, at Mountain Sky in Scott Twp. realizes that dream. The all-ages, sensory-friendly, outdoor music and wellness event was designed to cater to people with autism, sensitivities and all abilities. The weekend will feature live music and other entertainment, educational and play-based workshops, a community resource fair, yoga, art and more.

Inclusion Festival is made possible through not only Barron and Pinder’s vision and hard work but also collaboration with sponsors such as NEPA Inclusive, a local nonprofit that connects people with special needs with their passions and goals; the Jerry Garcia Foundation, which supports music, arts and environmental causes that further the late musician’s legacy through giving back; and Accessible Festivals, a nonprofit that works with large music festivals (such as Peach Music Festival) to make them more accessible to people with physical disabilities. The latter organization, Barron noted, believes Inclusion Festival may be the first festival made with that exact mission in mind.

“I kind of feel I was put on the planet to work with people with special needs,” said Pinder, who holds a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. “I incorporate yoga, circus art and singing in my therapy with kids and adults. It’s about finding universal themes for all disabilities, and this was informed by all the festivals I loved going to.”

“I ended up at the venue last year,” said Barron, who attended University of Scranton and has worked in a self-contained autism class and as a yoga instructor focused on teaching people with special needs. “As soon as I landed at Mountain Sky, I felt validation (that) this was the place for this event.”

Among the 20 expected vendors for Inclusion Festival, guests will find crafts and healthy food as well as information promoting local services to connect families with locations and people they can access throughout the year.

“We hope to impact people and let them take home tangible strategies far beyond the festival,” Pinder said.

Daily workshops include drumming, hula-hooping, inclusive art, mindful drawing, interactive theater, whole-body percussion and music therapy. There will be puppet shows; yoga; a skit performed by adults with disabilities from the Gathering Place in Clarks Summit, which will become an interactive workshop; plus teams of sign-language interpreters and speech-language therapists on hand.

Among the musical acts are headliner EmiSunshine, a 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist who became a YouTube sensation and performed on NBC’s “Little Big Shots” and “Today”; Brady Rymer, a children’s artist who wrote an album specifically for kids with autism; the Merry Rockers, comprised of musicians from Berklee College of Music and featuring a lead singer with cerebral palsy; plus the Hoppin’ Boxcars, whose three albums, when performed simultaneously, create a “decibel opera” based on the 1890s railroad era that features 25 to 30 people in costume and with props.

Inclusion Festival also will offer four designated sensory zones to facilitate relaxation and play. One will focus on music, another on yoga and mindfulness, and a third on art and play, while the fourth calls for breathing and relaxation and offers massages.

Camping is included in admission, and reservations in designated room blocks at nearby hotels will earn guests a free shuttle to the festival. Each facet of the accommodations put in place for the event was done to make it inviting to all so it can continue locally and throughout other states.

“We’re hoping families with neurotypical children will come to the festival, too,” Barron said.

“Our philosophy is sharing space together — inclusion,” Pinder said. “It’s going to be an amazing venue to meet people and see how we can support one another and how we all add value.”

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NEPA Inclusive is a provider of services for people with disabilities who have a ‘Waiver for Service’ through the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs (ODP). We provide In-Home and Community Supports, Companion Services, Supported Employment, and Supported Living Services.

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