Inside the living room of a home in San Jose with the quiet group eagerly awaiting his weekly visit, Christian LaPaglia clumps on his acoustic guitar as he strolls among two women and a trio of men in wheelchairs while playfully acknowledging each and every one. one of them.
“Hi to TJ,” he sings to a man, “it’s good to see you. Then he falls to his knees to serenade another resident.” Hi to Natalie, good to see you, “he sings, and Natalie laughs.
Most of the severely mentally handicapped live in Life Services Options‘Homes scattered among Santa Clara County neighborhoods cannot speak or walk. Some come from family homes where aging parents can no longer care for them, while others come from institutions. Now they can live in a publicly approved neighborhood house with support around the clock.
“It’s a little amazing to see how people respond to a loving and caring environment,” said LSA CEO Dana Hooper. “Most of these people are nonverbal, but they communicate a lot – with their smiles, with their expressions, with the blink of an eye. We often see growth that may have been stifled by the environment they were in before they came here. Our philosophy is that this should be a home for life. “
The Campbell-based nonprofit operates 15 homes in the county, mostly funded by the state and federal governments, and houses 70 disabled people with varying levels of assistance needs. Five of these homes house people in need of frequent care and receive other supportive services, such as those offered in the San Jose House, where LaPaglia provides a special form of care: music therapy.
Once a week, LaPaglia visits the house for an hour, plays his guitar, rings a xylophone, strikes the drum, rings bells and sings, starting with his personal greeting and continuing with tunes from the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, and even Kermit the Frog.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life, besides marrying my wife and adopting our daughter,” said LaPaglia, 55, of San Mateo, who is certified as a music therapist by the National Board of Education and holds a degree in music from San Francisco State University.
“We’re looking for some voluntary reactions to the music,” he says, “some gentle movements, tracking with the eyes, vocalizations and hopefully also relaxation.”
For people who are in many ways locked away from others by autism, cerebral palsy or other disorders, music offers an important social commitment through the experience of listening as a group and being addressed through singing by LaPaglia. When he sings the names of the residents, they and the others can hear and feel that they are not alone, he says.
The weekly sessions give residents something to look forward to, says Development Director Celia Moreton of the LSA. “Music is just some of what’s right on the field,” Moreton says. “It just brings joy.”
The non-profit, founded in 2002, began offering music therapy in 2019 and is seeking $ 10,000 from the Wish Book to expand the program to all five homes with the most disabled residents. “We’ve been amazed at the impact,” Hooper says. “It stimulates them and it improves their health, their well-being and their happiness.”
Music therapy, according to the Cleveland Clinic’s Academic Medical Center, is an evidence-based clinical treatment that can help people “psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively, and socially.”
The treatment is especially valuable for the most needy residents in LSA homes, Hooper says. Residents with less severe disabilities who live in some of the nonprofit organization’s homes have a wealth of excursion options and external programs, and may even have jobs. But for those in the five homes for severely disabled people, excursions are more limited, and music therapy opens them up to an invaluable aspect of the outside world, Moreton says. “This is a way to expand their horizons in a completely different way,” Moreton says. “Although there are many medical problems, even though our residents do not live a typical life, music touches them all.”
While the inner life of these deeply disabled LSA residents may not be clear, “they have a way of communicating with us on what they like and preferences, whether it is through a warm smile or an excited moment,” he says. LSA Program Director Sharmean Heffernan. “We know how they feel.”
People with developmental disabilities – many born with cerebral palsy or autism or suffering catastrophic injuries – typically come to LSA homes via referrals from schools in a program run by the state Department of Developmental Services.
For the LSA, like other home care providers, the coronavirus outbreak created massive disruption and challenges. Music therapy and excursions were temporarily shut down, as were visits from family and friends, Hooper says. “The pandemic made it difficult for us to keep everyone home staffed, but we continued to serve them seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and the staff was great,” he says. In one home, all five residents and all staff tested positive for the virus, he says. Some of the employees were placed in hotels by the LSA, which also provided incentives for the employees to work extra hours and days, as well as to pick up external workers, he says.
As the fallout from the pandemic now subsides, Bay Area’s housing crisis poses persistent problems for the LSA, making it difficult to find and retain staff, Hooper says. “We see it all the time,” he says. “Sometimes it takes the form of someone resigning and they want to move back to Ohio and live with the family, or they want to move out to Tracy and find a job out there.”
An LSA administrator, Joseph Lansana, has been in the non-profit organization for 12 years and can not imagine doing anything else. “This is a case where someone is completely, totally unable to help themselves get the best enjoyment in life,” says Lansana, an immigrant from Sierra Leone. “The help you give makes them happy and feels more encouraged to participate in life itself – when it does, it makes me feel good.”
Lansana and other staff often play recorded music for the residents, and it cheers them up, he says. He hopes to see what LaPaglia could do for residents of LSA homes who have never experienced the joy of having music played live, just for them. The residents he cares for generally prefer softer tunes, but in an LSA home in Campbell, LaPaglia may need to add a song or two with a harder edge to its repertoire. As Lansana notes, at least one of the residents – Kathy Jacobs – loves AC / DC.
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.
Donations will support the music therapy program at Life Services Alternatives’ five homes for residents with special health needs. Goal: $ 10,000.
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or email in the coupon.
Read other Wish Book stories, see photos and video wishbook.mercurynews.com.