How MFA Summer Symposium students and teachers helped unlock a five-year-old’s potential

Tommy Telgenhoff’s mother, Toni Telgenhoff-Garmer, shared this story with us as thanks for the impact MFA and the 2009 Summer Symposium staff and campers had on her little boy:

tommy_storyThis summer, when I took my 5-year-old son to watch drummers practice during Music for All’s Summer Symposium at Illinois State University, he took a liking to the drum majors. He watched a small group of them from the sidelines and practiced saluting and marching along with them. Soon, their director approached Tommy and invited him to watch the entire group rehearse on the field the next day.

Tommy woke up the following day eager to start off. To our surprise, the head director, George Parks greeted us and asked if Tommy would like to tell the 560 campers what he wanted to be when he grew up. Tommy raced to the podium with George and told the kids that his name was Tommy and he wanted to be a drum major when he grew up. The kids cheered. Tommy ran back over to us, all smiles. This was the start of something awesome! Tommy marched on the sidelines all day long, watching the kids and practicing his salute.

When he returned the next day he was greeted by smiles, hugs, and high fives. This continued throughout the week. Tommy called out commands to the entire drum major group. Campers and staff had pictures taken with him. He was walking around, full of pride, saluting everyone. All week long he had the most incredible smile on his face. George made him an “honorary vet” and gave him a vet pin, t-shirt and certificate. Tommy was even included in the group picture and brought onto the field in front of everyone at their final performance.

If you didn’t know Tommy before this, you might not understand why this was such an awesome experience for him. Tommy has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and sensory integration dysfunction. As a result, his self-esteem is incredibly low for a 5-yearold. He genuinely loves other people and shows no favoritism, but he has trouble loving himself. (At the ripe age of 5, Tommy has been hospitalized three times for suicidal behaviors and is on more medications than some entire families to help keep these behaviors at bay.) To watch this same boy go through that week at Summer Symposium with a smile on his face and feeling so full of pride literally brought tears to our eyes. What’s more incredible is that the campers are gone, George is back at home, Tommy’s no longer greeted every day by more than 500 kids hugging and high-fiving him, but Tommy still walks around with that same smile on his face. He still feels full of pride for what he did at Summer Symposium. The boy that I knew a week before hardly even exists. I’ve not seen him this happy in a very long time!

For this I say a great big thank you to George Parks, his staff at the 2009 Summer Symposium and each and every camper who made a difference in Tommy’s life. (They all did it without even knowing it!) Tommy is still practicing, marching and saluting, eager to show everyone next year how much he’s improved! Thank you all for making such a difference in my little boy’s life and in the life of our family! We love you all! SALUTE!

Reprinted from MFA’s  image IMPACT! Volume 2