August 22, 2018

A Las Vegas showbiz veteran stumbled upon her real calling: helping kids with special needs

After a 25-year career as a performer, Jamie Wexler discovered a new talent as a coach and mentor and founded the nonprofit Dream Believers

Las Vegas nonprofit Dream Believers teaches kids confidence through music. Photo courtesy of Jamie Wexler

As a singer, musician, actress, and entertainer for 25 years, I enjoyed the accolades of applause while performing in front of large audiences. I count myself lucky to have been a part of the music industry for so many years. But no one could have prepared me for the true feelings of joy, excitement, and accomplishment that I get from coaching individuals to reach their goals in music and the performing arts. These feelings become even stronger when I work with students who have specials needs.

In 2015, I was teaching an orchestra class at a local school when I met a young man with high functioning Asperger syndrome. He struggled with outbursts of anger. Through strength and patience, and a challenge to audition for the Christmas concert, he became an excellent violinist. His confidence grew. The other students started to accept him with kindness.

The very next semester, another young man entered our beginning orchestra class and sat down in the corner and cried. I tried to talk with him, but at first he could not communicate. There were no anger issues, just shyness and a lack of confidence. His father approached me about private lessons and I accepted the challenge. In a few short weeks a genius was born on piano and violin. This boy’s confidence grew. Suddenly he was assisting me in class with other students who were having difficulty learning their instruments.

I began to realize, although I was not formally trained for these special education students, I seem to have a way of strengthening their confidence and building a bridge of communication with music.

There was one more incident that convinced me that I was supposed to be working with these extremely gifted individuals. This time it was an autistic boy in a musical theatre class. He sat in the back, and when I asked his name, he said, “I do not want to be here. My mother enrolled me in this class, but I do not want to be here.” I assigned him a short monologue to perform and memorize. Eight weeks later during our recital, he performed an improvisational version of his own that received a standing ovation. His parents approached me about one-on-one coaching and vocal lessons—I said yes. He has since become a leader and has inspired the other kids with his tenacity. Last year, he even tried out for America’s Got Talent.

Parents of these students live in fear that if something were to happen to them, how would their special needs son or daughter survive in the real world as young adults? I have seen and been told by some of these parents that my coaching methods have created confidence that has assisted them in their overall academic performance in school. Many of these families are low-income and have extra expenses for speech therapy and psychologists but have had to discontinue their child’s music lessons. Some can also no longer afford to pay for their learning tools—pianos, violins, cellos, books, and sheet music.

Even if it's hidden inside of them, I believe that everyone has the ability to teach and inspire each other.

It occurred to me that I could make the time to teach them free of charge, and provide financial assistance to buy or rent whatever learning tools they would need to resume their music and performance lessons. I created Dream Believers Music and Performance Patronage to help give these kids the chance to express themselves through music.

Dream Believers is a nonprofit school for music and the performing arts that works to provide financial assistance to these students. Through fundraisers, donations, and grants, we provide training and education. The students and I perform frequently for nursing home facilities, hospitals, and anywhere we can bring music to our community.

I hope my story of an unexpected blessing that came with following my heart to challenge myself and never give up on these gifted individuals will inspire some of you out there to look inside your heart. Let it guide you to a new world of assisting others by using your knowledge to help them explore and use their gifts to someday reach their goals. Even if it’s hidden inside of them, I believe that everyone has the ability to teach and inspire each other.

Jamie Wexler

Jamie Wexler is musician, singer, performer, and music coach in Las Vegas. She is the founder of the nonprofit Dream Believers Music & Performance Patronage.