KAILUA-KONA — Music has a way of crossing language barriers and helping people communicate.
Heidi Hargett is a perfect example of that.
“I like to help people and watch them sing, and it makes me smile,” Hargett said. “The music brings joy to me and these people bring joy to my life.”
Hargett is a member of Arc of Kona, a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities. Every Monday morning, Hargett and Arc of Kona join a similar Big Island nonprofit, Full Life, to play music together as a group under the gazebo at Keauhou Shopping Center.
Volunteers John Holliday and Daryl Bickell lead the weekly music sessions with their ukulele, guitar and alphabetized songbooks for the participants to use as they play and sing popular songs such as “My Girl,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
“People who don’t verbalize or communicate, they will sing because it’s more familiar,” Holliday said. “Nothing is really expected of them and they don’t have to worry about what next to say. I think music in general is just a great way to express yourself, if you have problems with communication. Music kind of brings them out of their shell.”
Holliday began volunteering with Full Life in 2006 when he moved to the Big Island from Seattle, where he had previously worked as a special education teacher. After a few years of playing music exclusively with Full Life, Holliday began to split his time with Arc of Kona, and then had the idea to bring the two groups together for one weekly performance.
“It’s expression,” Jeri Raymond, program director for Arc of Kona, said of the music. “There’s some beautiful folks here that cannot hear very well, and they cannot speak, but they have that beat. They can keep rhythm.”
Raymond said the people she works with just want to be able to participate in the normal, everyday life activities non-disabled people are a part of.
“What we all want in life is to be a part of it, to be able to participate, be able to get a paycheck, no matter how little or small, just having that feeling of satisfaction in life,” Raymond said. “And our folks haven’t always had that.”
Holliday said the usually quiet Monday mornings at Keauhou Shopping Center were a perfect fit for the group, which has now been performing at the gazebo there for a little more than a year.
“I like the ukulele and the maracas,” participant Robbie Sanoria said. “They are the key to the music. Music is our hobby as a group.”
The group also has its “Keauhou supporters,” which include Keauhou manager Deanna Burns, Joy Vogelgesang of Kona Stories, who cheers on the group from her store along with her cats, and Kathy Jensen of Clark Realty, who supplies them with water.
“It’s turned into this really wonderful, welcoming ohana,” Holliday said. “It’s a great way to start the week, not only for all these folks, but for me too. It’s really fun.”
To Shauna Falgout, a classroom aide at Arc of Kona, the important aspect of the Monday performances is for the disabled people of the Big Island to be integrated into the community.
“People see us here, they get to know us and we get an audience,” Falgout said. “It creates social value. It helps them to be included. Which is really important, in the past, this demographic of people were kind of sheltered away. It’s good for them and it’s good for the people in the community.”
Anyone is welcome to join in on the Monday performances, even if they are not a part of Arc of Kona or Full Life.
“Now, more and more people are coming, and it’s a wonderful way people meet other people,” Holliday said. “It’s a way to expand, not just for those people with disabilities, but parents, caretakers and other people to join in. I’m quite proud of it. It’s a great way to spend our Mondays.”