A Spectrum of Possibilities
A Spectrum of Possibilities
By Viviana Fernandez
A microphone and radio broadcast at the Ed Isakson/Alpharetta
YMCA is transforming the lives of young men and women who
struggle with a condition typically associated with
communication challenges: Autism.
Every Monday since the beginning of
the school year, the spectrum of
voices of the students from the
Lionheart School have been gaining a
new boost of dreams, self-confidence,
and expressive language abilities. The
listeners, who tune in from as far
away as Rome or London, become weekly
witnesses to what can be possible for
people with autism spectrum disordersif given an opportunity.
“The Lionheart School approached me to
find out if the kids could come and
watch the music radio broadcasts that
we started ten months ago. I answered:
I have a better idea! I would like them to get involved in the broadcast,”
recalls Jimmy Moore, Cause Marketing Project Manager, who interviews the
students about a broad range of topics every week during his show.
Moore has a daughter with special needs, and his wife is a special education
“I have a passion for mission. I try to get through to the kids that
be anything they want to be! And there are really no restrictions on
They may think there are because they have autism but there are not.
all so talented in their own way. It has been great to get into that
see what we are pulling out of them,” adds Moore.
Many people who have autism struggle to stay on topic and to carry on a twoway conversation. Being interviewed on the radio every week allows them to
practice that skill and more.
“I would like to be an author but there is a problem. Unless you are J.K.
Rowling, you hardly make any “cashiola” with your first book,” explains
Carly, 20. “I am part Italian,” she points out. My last name is spelled
T-u-c-c-i. That is a “ch” sound,” she adds. She is a great writer, by the
way. Her teachers proudly indicate that she has received local and national
Carly is charming and very spontaneous. It is very difficult not to be
smitten by her spunk. It comes through during her time on the air, and it
also transpires during our conversation:
VF: So you are part Italian? What is your other part?
Carly: Russian, French and German.
VF: I was born in Argentina. Do you know where Argentina is?
Carly: Isn’t it in South America?
VF: Yes, it is!
VF: What talents did you discover that you have
doing the radio show?
Carly: Giving joy to people like Jimmy….and I am
good at talking on the radio.
VF: Is that one of your talents?
Carly: “Apparently, yeah”
VF: What topics do you like to talk about?
Carly: “Whatever, as long as I get to talk to people on the radio.”
VF: What do you think people are saying to themselves while they are
listening to you?
Carly: “I HAVE NO IDEA! Your guess is as good as mine!”
VF: Do you think it is interesting to them to hear you talk?
Carly: “Yeah, I think so.”
VF: Some young men or women would be shy or scared to talk on the radio. What
would you say to them?
Carly: “Ohh! You are talking about stage fright! I have been there before but
I have started to learn how to do it and I am pretty good. They can do it
VF: Comparing to the first day and now, what level are you at now?
Carly: “Well, I am not at NPR level…”
VF: They make mistakes too!
Carly: “Last time, you checked, were you a human?” (She goes around the table
asking his radio co-hosts and teachers if the last time they checked, were
VF: Last time I checked I was human.
Teacher: is your point that we all make mistakes? Carly: Yes.
VF: We all have strengths too. What are your strengths Carly?
Carly: Bringing Joy.
VF: To everybody?
Carly: Yeah! My mom is trying to get me not to talk to strangers.
VF: My son talks to everyone too.
Carly: Does he have foot and mouth disease?
You mean, does he ever stick his foot in his mouth?
VF: What would you tell kids who have challenges?
Carly: “Trust me, you don’t, I have challenges, trust me, I do. It is not
easy, but I got to suck it up and get used to going through in this crazy
VF: Anything else you want to add?
Carly: “I hope people will get to believe in themselves and maybe I should
work on that myself.”
VF: Anything else?
Carly: “Hey, maybe you should listen to me when I go on the radio.”
Another student, Vance Kanell, 18, works at the Y’s front desk on Saturdays.
He has been listening to Carly and patiently waiting for his turn. He is an
avid baseball fan. He recalls names of players, specific dates and plays.
Being able to talk about his baseball knowledge on the Y radio has inspired
him to consider a new profession in the future.
“Number one, I would like to be a baseball player. If I can’t become a
baseball player, number two would be a team manager. Number three would be a
sportscaster,” says Vance. “I never dreamed of doing this but as life goes on
you actually get the feeling that you might do this someday,” he adds.
Heather Wagner is the Director of Lionheart for Life Program, through which
these young men and women explore vocational and job skill development.
“The staff at the Y are supporting and coaching them in the areas of
hospitality, clerical, membership, equipment maintenance, and radio
broadcasting on YPR, the Atlanta Metro Area Y Radio,” explains Wagner. “Our
students cannot wait to get to the YMCA on Mondays! They definitely feel
needed, motivated, and confident. The work experience for our students opens
doors for them into professions they will fly high in,” she adds.
Confidence is definitely permeating in Vance’s outlook for the future. He can
provide historical data at the drop of a hat to back up his optimism.
“Anything is possible if you just keep believing. In 2004, in baseball
everybody was down in Boston. In case you haven’t noticed I am a Red Sox fan.
When they were 3 games to none to the New York Yankees, a big guy known as
the “Big Papi” said: You can do this!,” he recalls.
VF: What would you say to people who perhaps doubt that you can actually
Vance: “Everybody in my family says: you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
VF: Well said!
“It is sheer joy to have them here. It has made me realize that there are
different norms. And being able to be in their lives, and them allowing me
in….it is just a thrill. It is really a gift from God,” ends Moore.