Music therapists zoom in

RicStar’s camp maintains joy and continuity.

Music therapists Cindy Edgerton, Jaime Lawrence, Erin Dunbar and musician Victor DeMott play one of Eric Winter’s compositions during the virtual RicStar’s Camp Be-A-Star Showcase. Edgerton, Lawrence and Dunbar worked with Eric who inspired the camp.
One of our Canadian camper friends, Evan Fiorella, rocks out virtually.
Online campers were organized into three groups. Here, music therapist Louie Morand IV leads the GO GREEN group.
Music therapist Marissa Peak took the lead with the GO WHITE virtual group.
Music therapist Lindsey Parr Henning performing with the GO STATE virtual camp group.

Judy Winter knew COVID-19 could never silence the commitment of the Michigan State University Community Music School to celebrate people with special needs through the power of music therapy.

For the 18th successive year, the Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp—inspired by Judy’s musically gifted son—was hosted by CMS in East Lansing. But this June, the slate of musical activities for special needs campers was done remotely to minimize exposure to the novel coronavirus—a format that required intense planning and innovation by camp leaders and volunteers.

“Eric would no doubt see Year 18 as a drop-the-mic-moment,” said Winter. “The fact that the beauty of technology allowed us to pull this together on short notice so our terrific campers did not have to miss a year of RicStar’s Camp was incredible.”

Keeping steady

Winter and her husband Dick created RicStar’s Camp in 2003 to honor their late son Eric—a 12-year old CMS music therapy client with cerebral palsy who had a passion for music and a dream of starting a music therapy camp. Cindy Edgerton of CMS is also a co-founder of the inclusive day camp that provides opportunities for people with special needs and their siblings to engage with music and each other.

As the director of CMS music therapy clinical services, Edgerton recognizes the benefits of musical activities and therapy. She also understands the importance of routine and stability in the lives of people with special needs. That’s why, she said, her stubbornness kicked in and she refused to consider canceling this year’s RicStar’s Camp.

“So many people in this population have trouble with change, particularly with routine,” Edgerton said. “COVID-19 turned their lives upside down. Lots of individuals can’t deal with it, and have a hard time understanding why they are stuck at home and can’t go places or do things they usually do.”

When the public health crisis necessitated MSU’s switch to remote learning, Edgerton and her team put their virtual boots on the ground. They discovered that Zoom technology allowed them to hold one-on-one music therapy sessions with CMS clients. As their comfort level grew, the team brainstormed how they could stretch the Zoom platform to host the 2020 RicStar’s Camp, too. 

Edgerton surveyed her clientele and past campers to assess the interest in a virtual camp. She estimated 40 to 60 campers would respond. Instead, 100 people said they were interested.

“The response to the survey was so overwhelmingly quick and positive,” she said.  “We knew we had to go forth.”

Cindy Edgerton (left) and Judy Winter are RicStar co-founders, along with Judy's husband, Dick. Cindy and Judy, seen here pre-COVID in 2020, could never have imagined the effort needed to pull of the 18th straight year of RicStar’s Camp.
Despite a massive amount of planning to take the RicStar’s Camp online, co-founder Judy Winter and the CMS team managed the labor of love without ever meeting in person, staying safe all the while during COVID-19.
Jenna Taylor is Judy and Dick Winter's daughter and Eric Winter's sister. Her involvement has been steadfast, and she greeted all of the campers as part of the Be-A-Star showcase video.
Judy Winter holds a photo of her son, Eric. He is ever-present at RicStar’s Camp, rightly so given Eric's love of music, his talent, and his desire for a camp like this keeps the entire camp team energized each year. Photo: McShane Photography

Zooming in

For four days in June, 100 campers from as near as East Lansing and as far away as Virginia Beach and Ontario “zoomed-in” to attend the RicStar’s Camp. Participants were divided into small groups, and linked to one of four two-hour sessions. Each session was facilitated by a music therapist, and moderated by a volunteer who kept activities and participants on track.

Edgerton said that pre-camp communication and training was key to helping participants understand the differences between virtual and in-person camp. Caregivers and family members received simple, step-by-step instructions, and follow-up calls to walk them through Zoom basics.

Organizers also briefed campers on the format of virtual sessions, and suggested items for music-making and dance. Song and dance requests from campers shaped activities, while therapists led specific sessions focused on rock guitar, musical theater, and songwriting.

“Every day and every session just gave me the chills,” said Edgerton. “Therapists and volunteers put so much time and caring into this. It was simply incredible to see the fun and comradery that exists in our camp.”

Structure of hope

Director Jaime DeMott of CMS-East Lansing said the camp’s positivity continues to ripple throughout the community it serves, and provides hope during a time of uncertainty.

Several campers, she said, have formed small groups that work with CMS music therapists. Some group members include new campers who have never attended camp or come to CMS because of physical or geographic limitations.

“That has been super neat,” said DeMott. “It’s almost like camp is continuing throughout the summer and even year-round.”

As a final celebration of this year’s success, co-founder Judy Winter spearheaded the creation of a special “Be-A-Star Showcase” that compiled camp moments and awards, including the 2020 STAR Award to L’Oreal Paris for their support. Premiered shortly after camp concluded, the 55-minute video featured a welcome by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ben Schneider of Lord Huron, and Camilla Cabello from the 2019 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Gala that honored RicStar’s Camp.

“This virtual camp was one of our bigger successes this summer and a wonderful way to bring joy to people during such an unnerving time,” said DeMott. “Things feel so overwhelming right now, so it’s those moments of pure joy in a Zoom meeting that can help us all feel better.”

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