Special needs participants given spotlight at Merrimack Hall - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Special needs participants given spotlight at Merrimack Hall

These folks are participating in the Johnny Stallings Art Program, honoring the life of the son of legendary coach Gene Stallings. (Source: WAFF) These folks are participating in the Johnny Stallings Art Program, honoring the life of the son of legendary coach Gene Stallings. (Source: WAFF)
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Being blind doesn't hurt Krista Frangos' voice. In fact, her songs and sweet spirit are captivating.

These folks are participating in the Johnny Stallings Art Program, honoring the life of the son of legendary coach Gene Stallings.  

Debra Jenkins is the founder, chairman of the board and mastermind of this heartwarming program at Merrimack Hall.

"We were searching for a mission for this nonprofit," said Jenkins. "We opened in 2007 and didn't have a mission, and when I learned that children and adults that have special needs were routinely denied access to the type of meaningful and substantive activities in the arts that we all have an opportunity to participate in, I just wanted to fill that need."

She says more than 500 people ranging in age from 3 to 60 that have a wide variety of special needs have utilized the program.

Retired special education teacher Suzanne Bradley says there are a lot of advantages.   

"The benefits have been that they get social interaction with their peers," Bradley said. "And they improve their concentration skills and their skills to communicate with other people through using music, dance and the arts. [It] improves their employability skills because it helps them get into the community more."

One way to find out how well this program works is to talk to the participants themselves. Dee Walker says she loves it.

"If we didn't have this,it wouldn't be so fun," Walker said. And if she wasn't here, she'd be home. "Watching TV, and I have a boyfriend," she added with a laugh.

Austin Vu says while he doesn't like to sing, he does like the technical stuff and being an assistant.

All the joy and camaraderie comes together in a healthy environment where they can dance - and sing - to their hearts' content.  

Click here for more information on Merrimack Hall.

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