Jefferson Award Winner Co-Founded Maya's Music Therapy FundBy Sharon Chin

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) This week’s Jefferson Award winner is unleashing the power of music to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities.

Thirty-four-year-old Annika Miller catches the beat in her music therapy session.

“I’m very excited, happy. I feel good,” she said.

Music is much-needed therapy for some two dozen people with developmental disabilities like autism and Downs syndrome.

The session at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley is run by Maya’s Music Therapy Fund. Its co-founder, neurologist Dr. Joanna Cooper, says the group is especially important for adults who age out of government-funded services.

“It’s often the only service they get in a therapeutic way to improve their motor ability, coordination, social abilities, their language,” she explained.

Maya’s Music Therapy Fund honors Dr. Cooper’s severely disabled daughter, Maya who died at age 14 from a rare neurologic disorder.

“She was nonverbal, but she could really come alive with music,” Dr. Cooper recalled.

When Dr. Cooper and Maya’s father founded the nonprofit in 1989, they started with a handful of children. Today, the nonprofit is 29 years old and serves more than a hundred children and adults.

Titia Martin, the nonprofit’s paid music therapist, says Dr. Cooper has expanded the sessions to several locations in Richmond and Berkeley.

“She’s very strong-willed, she knows what she wants, then she makes it happen,” Martin explained.

The therapy sessions are for groups or individuals. There is a small fee, usually one to five dollars, but no one is turned away because of inability to pay.

All of the participants perform in a music festival.

And sometimes it takes years, but Dr. Cooper has seen miracles through Maya’s Music Therapy Fund.

“Somebody who never spoke being able to sing or somebody who can’t use their left arm now being able to use it,” Dr. Cooper said.

So for co-founding a music therapy nonprofit that improves the quality of life developmentally disabled participants, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Joanna Cooper.

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