Campers are Learning to Fly at Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation’s “MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Camp”

At the end of a wonderful summer, the Brad Schoener MusicMan Academy looks back with pride on the past two weeks of the Butterfly Buddy program, an adaptive creative arts therapy experience which helps children with disabilities through movement, art, and music. Each camper is paired with a high school or college “buddy” who has been trained ahead of time for the specific needs of each student, and the program encourages campers to engage with music, the arts, and themselves. Butterfly Buddy Camp looks forward to new fall programming, which will bring the same incredible attributes of its summer camp to children throughout the year. 

Now in its third year of programming, the MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Program welcomed its largest number of students yet. This summer, campers participated in a variety of creative arts activities. The “play and stop” musical activity quickly became a favorite, with campers volunteering to lead the group as they played. Art activities were also a great favorite, from decorating music notes to hang above their art station to creating a butterfly collage formed out of pieces from every camper. In addition, after receiving a great deal of positive feedback from the previous summer, “Super Buddies” were brought back as a new component of the camp program. After middle school campers have completed their week of camp, they are invited back to serve as “Super Buddies” for the elementary school students. The ability to come back and reconnect with fellow campers, develop important leadership abilities, as well as support younger students, continued to be a great success. The opportunity to continue the following week as a “Super Buddy” for the middle school students is currently being worked into the program’s design each year. 

The father of a Butterfly Buddy camper said, “My son loves the art at camp. He doesn’t get a lot of opportunities at school to do art that he enjoys. Here it’s kind of catered to what he likes to do. For instance, he was able to use letters and integrate them into his art…He can express himself here, which I think he likes. He’s not very verbal, so him being able to express himself through his art is really cool. It’s a way to see what he’s thinking and see what’s in there. It’s been great; it’s been a great process. He loves it here, and it’s a shame that it’s only a week.”

The Butterfly Buddy program will be extending classes into the school year with once-a-month Butterfly Buddy Club meetings on Fridays. The first meeting open to the public will be a “Friendsgiving” event at Watkins Senior Center on Friday, November 20th, where each attendee is invited to bring a friend. Prior to this, an invite-only meeting in October will consist of a focus group of experienced Butterfly Buddy campers and parents for the purpose of further meeting the needs of children with disabilities. 

The MusicMan Butterfly Buddy Program was created through a collaboration between UDAEF’s Royal Butterfly Special Needs Fund and the Schoener Musicman Academy, with the support of a generous grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The program was originally formatted for students with autism, with the intention to expand this opportunity to more children within the special needs population in future years. The program incorporates a strengths-based approach that reinforces and enhances social, communication, motor, and cognitive skills with an emphasis on enrichment and fun through creative arts participation. All participants are guided by certified and registered music and art therapists as well as certified music educators. 

Dawn Morningstar, a dance and movement therapist at Butterfly Buddy Camp, said, “I feel very honored and lucky to be in a space that has so much positive support for kids. So often, kids who are neurodivergent don’t get good support, or don’t get the love and care that I feel is in this camp. Everyone who is here wants to be here, and we also work really nicely as a team in supporting the kids.”

The mother of a Butterfly Buddy camper said, “My son loves camp. Every day, he can’t wait to get here. He usually doesn’t like to get ready for anything, but now every morning he’s dressed, he’s got his bag, he’s just so excited to come. He was so sad to hear that it was only one week, and when he found out he’d have to wait until next summer he was like, ‘I have to wait that long?’ He loved camp, he absolutely loved it. He loves the people here; everyone’s so friendly and kind. I’m just so happy for him.”

This program is organized through a unique partnership of the MusicMan Academy of the Brad Schoener Memorial Fund, and the Royal Butterfly Special Needs Fund, which supports special needs students and families in the Upper Darby School District. The entire MusicMan Academy operates under the Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation, and Butterfly Buddy camp is additionally funded by a grant from the Department of Education. 

Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation–whose vision is that every student has the opportunity to excel artistically and academically–was formed in 1998 to improve the quality of education, arts, and cultural programs in the Upper Darby School District (UDSD). Since then, UDAEF has distributed more than $2,700,000 via more than 1,100 grants to teachers, student groups, clubs, and the UDSD which has helped provide needed resources, improve educational outcomes, advanced learning and higher achievement, and contributed significantly to improving the culture and cohesion of the Upper Darby community, In 2021, UDAEF expanded its mission to reaching students beyond Upper Darby and operating community arts programs that include Upper Darby Summer Stage and Schoener MusicMan Academy.

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