It all started with a phone call one Friday night during my first year. I picked up my phone, answering, “Hello?”
“Hey Connie! It’s Alex. One of our piano teachers in AMASE dropped out last minute – could you sub for us tomorrow?”
I had heard briefly about AMASE, short for the Academy of Music and Arts for Special Education, from Alex previously but I had never thought to get deeper involved. Seeing this as a good opportunity to check it out, I agreed and was instructed to arrive at 9:30 promptly the next morning.
I can still remember the grogginess with which I woke up that first Saturday morning and how it stayed with me as I dragged myself out of bed and to the basement of the Sheil Catholic Center. Upon arriving, I was introduced to the executive board as they explained to me the general schedule and set up for the morning and the student I would be working with. Soon after, volunteers began arriving and then quickly after that, students and their families began filling the basement.
The basement seemed to transform with the sudden influx of energy and excitement as everyone settled into their lessons. As I stood in a corner of the basement waiting for my student to arrive, I was amazed by the energy in the room. Students and volunteers found their own space scattered throughout the basement, and from each space snippets of music and conversation could be heard. The blend of melodic lines played on the piano with chords strummed on the guitar to rhythmic patterns played on percussion instruments created such an interesting fabric and I found myself feeling so inspired. The sleepiness that I had felt earlier had completely dissipated at this time, and at that moment I realized that I had stumbled on a very wonderful community.
At the end of that morning, one of the executive members handed me a document, asking me to sign it. I read it over and realized that it was a volunteer contract, detailing expectations and requirements, including a minimum of a two-quarter commitment. Although I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, I decided to take the plunge and sign the contract.
Now, almost three years later, as I head into my senior year, I can honestly say that being a part of AMASE has been one of the most meaningful and inspiring aspects of my Northwestern experience so far. From students and their families to our own volunteers, I have met such an incredible group of people coming from all walks of life, and it is so wonderful to see everyone come together every Saturday morning to celebrate music. It has also been incredible to see how far our volunteer organization has come. From our admittedly disorganized sessions in the basement of the Sheil, we have almost doubled the number of student volunteers and increased our number of students as well and moved to Parkes Hall this past year, where we are able to provide individual classrooms and music stands for each student for the first time, allowing for a more formal and organized teaching environment.
However, perhaps the most exciting and most rewarding experience of my time with AMASE thus far is putting on our first-ever sensory friendly carnival in support of Autism Awareness Month this past April. Through various grants, donations from Evanston restaurants and businesses, and collaborations with other Northwestern student organizations, we were able to raise enough money to hold this event on the lawn outside of the Norris Student Center. That day, it was clear blue skies and our yellow party tent stood in the middle of the green Norris South Lawn, with purple booths underneath with various games and activities. Families and students alike ran about, chasing balloons or milling about the cotton candy and popcorn station. As the wind swept through my hair with promises of warmer spring weather to come, I thought back to that very first morning when I stood groggy and bleary eyed under the fluorescent lights of the basement, and I couldn’t help but feel so grateful and amazed with all the moments I’ve been so lucky to experience and be a part of since then.