Tuesday, May 28, 2013

VISTA Starts Music Therapy Program

Today's post comes to us via the VT Engage website. It is written by Alejandra O'Connor, current Virginia Tech VISTA, and features her work and the work of Victoria Ho, graduate student at Radford University.

VISTA Starts Music Therapy Program
by Alejandra O'Connor

Radford University student Victoria Ho works with
several students in Roanoke
Once a week, Radford University graduate student Victoria Ho travels from Radford to Roanoke. She meets with children at the Jamestown Community Center to play music. Ho brings a trunk full of instruments including drums, tambourines, castanets, egg shakers and maracas. Her goal is to use music as therapy for children in the United States on refugee status.

Music Therapy is the use of music to reach non-musical goals such as promoting self and cultural expression, increasing social awareness, decreasing anxiety, promoting positive peer interactions and enhancing relationship-building skills. Practitioners must meet a minimum clinical hour requirement and pass a board certification exam. The Music Therapy program in Roanoke is part of Ho’s clinical practice at Radford University. Ho is supervised by her professor James Borling; a Music Therapy professional for over 30 years. Borling has seen music bridge cultural differences and encourages participants to use music to tell stories. “Vicky has a really unique perspective. She has been able to practice the skills that she learned in the classroom. Her desire to help people has been her driving force in this program and you can really see that in her work”.

Ho is the child of a Vietnamese family who first came to the United States as refugees. “I chose to work with refugee children because of my family background. I saw the hardship my parents had to go through in order to become acclimated to US culture. I know that kids in these types of families sometimes hear terrible stories of what life was like back home and it takes a toll on their emotional well-being. Music can provide a way for those emotions to get out so the child can heal. I also like that I can combine my initial career goal of practicing psychiatry with my love of music”. The participants are primarily from Iraq and South Sudan. Ho successfully uses music to bridge age, gender and cultural boundaries of participants. As they learn from each other, their fear of the unknown becomes significantly less prominent in their lives.

Music Therapy provides a safe place for children to learn how to play an instrument while confronting conscious or unconscious issues resulting from forced deportation. It also provides a unique way for children to integrate into their new homes and become successful students and citizens of the United States.

The partnership between Radford University and VT Engage: The Community Learning Collaborative is managed by AmeriCorps VISTA member Alejandra O’Connor.

For Alejandra, home is where the heart is. The daughter of a Marine, she lived many different places growing up, but for high school and college her family settled in North Carolina and she still calls the state her home. She did her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and in 2011 earned a Global Master of Arts in International Relations from Webster University.

An interest in humanitarian issues, a strong background in service, and a drive to impact communities made VISTA service a perfect next step for Alejandra. She relocated to Blacksburg, VA to be one of two NC Campus Compact VISTAs at Virginia Tech. Initially Alejandra thought the relocation might leave her on her own a lot, but she's found a friend in fellow NC Campus Compact VISTA Wyatt Taylor and met some great people on and off campus who have made her job adventure amazing. She's also been impressed with how the students and faculty on campus take Virginia Tech's motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) to heart.

When she's not at work Alejandra is an avid reader and likes to exercise. She's recently picked up boxing thanks to an on-campus club. She also volunteers with her sorority, Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority Inc., supervising recruitment for several undergraduate and graduate chapters. After her year of VISTA service Alejandra plans to join the Peace Corps.