In October 2011, FLAME rocked the town in a musical kick-off of Disabilities Awareness at Broadmeadow, Eliot, Mitchell and Newman elementary schools. An international touring success that has released four CDs and been featured in PEOPLE and on Good Morning America, FLAME is a band of musicians with disabilities spanning autism, blindness, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. To advocates of disabilities awareness in Needham, FLAME is a living example of the program’s message: That people with disabilities can live rich and productive lives doing what they love to do.

Says Martha Cohen Barrett, a coordinator of the disabilities awareness program at Eliot School: “Our goal is to demystify disabilities and show children that people with disabilities can do many of the same things that people without disabilities can do.”

“We call these programs ‘disability awareness,’” says Jacquie Sherman, who with Barrett, helped bring the program to Eliot, “but they are really about ‘diversity awareness’.”

Funded by a $5,000 grant from the Needham Education Foundation (NEF), the Needham Commission on Disabilities and the PTCs of the schools on the tour, the FLAME performance both energized and inspired Needham students:

“They taught us that if you want to do something, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t!”

“When they were young, they were told they could never play an instrument or sing and now they are in an amazing band!”

“They put us into a “dancy” mood and it was one of the best bands I’ve ever seen!”

“I forgot they had any disabilities… they were just great musicians.”

“I loved hearing how they overcame such difficult things in their life.”

“It felt awesome to dance…it felt like we were celebrating with them!”

“At 10:45 it had to end. The band had to board the bus, the students and teachers returned to class. However, in a mere 45 minutes, four hundred of the Mitchell family made the journey from curious to anxious to amazed to appreciative to inspired. We saw wheelchairs and crutches. We saw people who looked different. We saw people who couldn’t see us. But, we also heard from the experts – people who persevered against odds, people in the know – who knew that fears can be overcome, courage is there for the taking, hope is free, and dreams are meant to be real. We also heard a whole lot of great music.”

–Excerpted from Letter from Michael Schwinden, Principal, Mitchell Elementary School