Commemorating CMS East Lansing Music Therapy Camp

Author and mother of special needs child reflects on 15 years of the RicStar’s Camp.

Long-time camper, Jason, is having fun at RicStar’s Camp with volunteer, Eric, and CMS music therapy director/co-founder of RicStar’s Camp, Cindy Edgerton. Photo by McShane Photography.
Dancing at RicStar's Camp with "My Chance to Dance," a dance/exercise program designed for children and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities. Photo by Sarah Bohan.
Long-time camper, Evan, rocking out at RicStar's Camp 2013. Photo by Erik Taylor.
RicStar youth campers participate in a drum circle. Photo by Erik Taylor.

By Judy Winter, author of Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs, and co-founder of the Eric ‘RicStar’s’ Winter Music Therapy Camp

To fully appreciate the magnitude of the 15th Anniversary of the Eric ‘RicStar’s’ Winter Music Therapy Camp requires a backstory.

Also known as RicStar’s Camp, the summer camp is open to individuals of all ages and disabilities and their siblings, part of the MSU Community Music School and held yearly in honor of my son, Eric Richard Winter.

He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth on September 25, 1990 and passed away unexpectedly at age 12.

After being told everything Eric wouldn’t achieve because of disability, our family took him home, determined to raise him with every life opportunity, as we did his then six-year-old sister, Jenna.

We faced endless challenges and fought for accessibility, including to Eric’s neighborhood school where he was included throughout his life. Fueled by unconditional love for a child filled with indomitable spirit, and unwavering zest for life despite physical challenges, we boldly forged on.

Eric’s successes included attending MSU’s Laboratory Preschool, a future educational foundation. There, his love for music was discovered by an early childhood music professional. She called Eric “full of music” and suggested music classes.

We chose music therapy, a decision that changed our son’s life, and ours.

Meeting CMS Music Therapy Clinical Services Director and co-founder of RicStar’s Camp, Cindy Edgerton, was one of our greatest life blessings. Under her enthusiastic tutelage, and that of other music therapists, Eric’s gift was skillfully nurtured and celebrated. He began writing music, a painstaking process without benefit of today’s technology,

When our son died unexpectedly in 2003, we were devastated. Deeply grieving, we dug deep to honor our son in a way befitting Eric’s remarkable life.

VIDEO: 2017 CMS Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp Feature

Music was the answer.

Fueled by a passionate commitment to honoring Eric, and utilize $10,000 in memorial gifts, the first Eric ‘RicStar’s’ Winter Music Therapy Camp was held just five months after Eric died. We created a summer camp where no one would be turned away because of financial need, age or disability.

Siblings would take part and parents would get a well-deserved caretaking break.

Eric’s wish to attend summer camp wasn’t realized because most summer camps had stipulations that our son’s cerebral palsy couldn’t meet.

RicStar’s Camp uses the power of music, movement, and music therapy to realize social, emotional, physical and developmental gains for all abilities.

We’ve been blessed with on-going media coverage and generous public support, including from the Dart Foundation and others.

Hundreds of volunteers, teen buddies (seeds of inclusion), music therapists, nursing staff, therapy dogs, dance, drama, guest performers, and our first professional camp DVD from Cheeney Media Concepts2 all contribute to the camp’s success.

Jon Whiting, Steve Boughton, and the crew of MSU Recording Services have provided first-rate yearly productions.

We’ve received prestigious awards, including a 2012 Crystal Award from the City of East Lansing.

Each gift has taken us to a new level of professionalism and credibility.

Many people own a piece of RicStar’s Camp success, including families who entrust us with loved ones and call camp the highlight of their children’s year.

At the camp’s core are skilled practitioners from one of our finest professions—music therapy.

Music therapists use training, music and heart to change lives, an effort spearheaded by our remarkably skilled and energetic camp director, Cindy Lu Edgerton. She’s determined that every single camper succeeds.

Year 15 was the culmination of a 14-year commitment to realizing campers’ dreams. We achieved a new level of recognition in communities we serve.

We welcomed visitors Kellie Dean of Dean Transportation, Jim Lammers of the Dart Foundation, and Bob Hoffman of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.

We recognized Lt. Gov. Brian Calley with a RicStar’s Camp award for special needs advocacy. Calley graciously played piano on our camp song, jammed with an appreciative camper with Down syndrome, and tweeted, “I love what they do at RicStar’s Camp.”

A much-anticipated visit from MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon was the celebratory cherry on our delicious summer-camp music sundae.

All three camp co founders are MSU grads, ensuring Simon experienced a spectacular “Spartans Will” example in her own Green backyard.

For 90 minutes, President Simon interacted with campers, wore our t-shirt, and posed for photos. Then, she proclaimed what we have created as “extraordinary.” It was a moment we will never forget. Validation we’ve worked incredibly hard for.

On February 16, 2003, our son passed away. In July 2003, Eric’s music dream was reborn. On June 21st, 2017, we celebrated the end of 15 successful years of RicStar’s Camp with renewed purpose and joy.

Make no mistake. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. But RicStar's Camp has turned devastating loss into a beautiful dream.

Just days after Eric’s birth, we were told our baby wouldn’t achieve much. But Eric is still changing lives.

Thank you, RicStar’s, for 15 great years of camp. Your music lives on in beautiful ways.

Still. Extraordinary indeed.

Judy Winter is the author of Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs, co-founder of the Eric ‘RicStar’s’ Winter Music Therapy Camp, and 2007 Outstanding Alumni of the MSU College of Communications Arts & Sciences. Email her at

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