Aarne Heikkila, NBC Producer
When Stephanie Diaz first arrived at the Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center in 2001, she was an introverted seven-year-old who demonstrated severe and destructive autistic tendencies. Unable to communicate or connect with the world around her, Stephanie's mother, Elida, hoped that the center would help ease her daughter's autistic symptoms.
Today, thanks to the Therapeutic Arts Center's music therapy courses as well as her one on one lessons with music instructor and professional opera singer Renee Rulon Cortez, Stephanie is now able to sing beautifully in four languages, English, Spanish, Latin and Italian.
Over time, Stephanie transitioned from a girl who was completely closed off to the outside world to a young woman who now sees the world through a new lens.
"Stephanie responded to the music therapy program right away as many autistic children do," said Ana Jimenez, executive director of the Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center. "Music has allowed her to express herself in a productive way rather than in a destructive way."
What the Therapeutic Arts Center has done for Stephanie, it's done for a countless number of other autistic and special needs children, too. Every weekday, close to a hundred kids of all ages can be found practicing piano, playing the violin, even banging the drums under the watchful eye of a dedicated instructor or volunteer.
But like many non-profits across the country, the recession has hit the center hard. It has lost close to $200,000 in donations this year alone, as well as a sizeable amount from the local school district. That means the center has had to do away with close to 200 scholarships--the same kind of funding that enabled Stephanie's family to enroll her into the center's music therapy program.
To help or learn more about the Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center please click here: http://www.occtac.org/
To watch Stephanie sing click here: (link to story or web xtra)