(L-R)Lexi Bodick, Elena Bonomo, Desi Oakley, Jim Hogan, Ryan Cantwell, Kyra Kennedy, Emily Koch, Grace Stockdale, Rheaume Crenshaw, Dr. Barbara Firestone, Help Group President & CEO, with Help Group students.

During the first week of the new school year, on Thursday, August 23, The Help Group hosted a Music for Autism Concert at its Sherman Oaks campus. The concert featured, for the second time, Music Director and pianist Ryan Cantwell, accompanied by performers from multi-talented cast of the highly acclaimed touring company of the Tony nominated musical Waitress. In 2014, Ryan performed at The Help Group for the Music for Autism concert series with the touring company of the Broadway hit musical Pippin.

The Help Group was pleased to welcome to the stage for the first time singers Desi Oakley, Kyra Kennedy, Emily Koch, Jim Hogan, Rheaume Crenshaw, Grace Stockdale, Lexi Bodick and percussionist Elena Bonomo. Students and faculty from The Help Group’s Bridgeport and Village Glen schools attended the interactive concert.

Dr. Barbara Firestone, Help Group President and CEO and Music for Autism Board Member, kicked off the event by welcoming everyone to the concert and thanking Music for Autism, Ryan Cantwell, and members of the Waitress touring company ensemble for bringing the joy of music to the children.

Students and faculty danced and sang along to a host of Broadway songs. Some of the numbers included in the concert were “Opening Up” from Waitress; “Let It Go” from Frozen and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. And, in a touching moment, one student joined two of the performers to sing “For Good” – a moving song about friendship from the hit musical Wicked.

“It was so fulfilling to see how music can have such a wonderful effect on young people’s lives,” said Desi Oakley, the lead in the touring company production of Waitress.

Another performer, Grace Stockdale, remarked, “How extraordinary – to be able to bring people together with music, passion, and love. It was absolutely an honor to perform today.”

The concert ended with a rousing reprise of “Opening Up” during the “percussion time” section of the concert. Students and faculty formed a conga line, danced and shook tambourines to the beat of the song. Fun was had by all!
“Ryan Cantwell and the ensemble made such an impactful and unforgettable connection with the children. It was wonderful to see our young people engaged in the magic of music. What an uplifting and incredible day,” said Dr. Barbara Firestone.

Our heartfelt thanks to our Music for Autism friends and Ryan, Desi, Kyra, Emily, Jim, Rheaume, Grace, Lexi and Elena, and the amazing faculty of The Help Group for making this such a special day for the children.

1.(L-R) Help Group Student, Ryan Cantwell
2. Kyra Kennedy and Emily Koch Sing “For Good” With a Help Group Student
3. Dr. Barbara Firestone, Help Group Students
4. (L-R) Grace Stockdale, Rheaume Crenshaw