In 1964, Headmaster George Stevens had the bold idea to make good use of the summer months and open an empty campus to under-resourced students.
StarJam’s history goes back to 2002 when its founder, Julie Bartlett, set out to create a platform where young people with disabilities could show their talents through a variety of performance opportunities. The inspiration for StarJam was a real person: Julie’s older brother, who had Down Syndrome.
Fast forward 16 years, and StarJam is still the living embodiment of its mission:
“Empowering young people with disabilities through music workshops and performance so they gain new skills, develop confidence, have fun, and grow as individuals while educating the wider community what people with disabilities can achieve.”
StarJam's primary objectives are to assist young New Zealanders with disability(ies) — their "Jammers" — to reach their potential, and to participate fully in their communities by providing opportunities many take for granted.
StarJam does not discriminate in any way by disability, and safely accommodates young people who may have experienced failure or exclusion because they don’t "fit in" with other community groups due to issues like challenging behaviors, extreme anxiety, or high physical needs.
Their workshops are participant-centered so that content and choreography are very much a cheerful collaboration of Jammers', tutors', and volunteers’ ideas, interests, and input.
The StarJam program has three main components:
- Weekly community music workshops in accessible neighborhood locations where we promote learning through music, positive social, physical, and mental activity and interaction
- Quarterly community discos (open to all people in the community who have a disability) where people can socialize and have fun in a safe environment, free from judgment
- Year-round community performance programs which provides a public showcase for Jammers’ music skills, instilling confidence and promoting both connecting with and giving back to the community
StarJam also set out to dispel public misconceptions about what people with disabilities can achieve, to strengthen families through a network of support, create a community connection for people who may be isolated by disability, and to motivate our Jammers to build fulfilling lives beyond the program.
“I know that being a special needs teenager is often very lonely — my son doesn't have friends over or get invited to social events through school," says a StarJam parent. "StarJam is not just about dancing and singing, it also provides an important social session where he is able to interact positively with his peers and where he has made friends.”
StarJam believes that music is a medium that can transform lives. It is backed by research and what they witness in their workshops daily. They see Jammers who, for the first time, are able to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions, to sustain physical activity, to memorize routines, and to interact warmly and positively with their peers.
A final word from one of their Jammers: “StarJam has surely been the best thing that ever happened to me. We know now we can be as normal as we want to be and that we can achieve anything we want to.”
StarJam is an award-winning non-profit organization that empowers young New Zealanders with disabilities to achieve their full potential through music and performance workshops.Learn More
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