Brigantine native Jerry Ryan believes we're all put on this Earth to make a difference.
"It's our job to find out what makes us tick, what we're passionate about, and use those things to make the world a better place," Ryan said.
In a blending of his own passions and interests, which includes music and advocating for children with autism, Ryan organized the inaugural Elephants for Autism Music Festival last year, a three-day nonstop jam session fundraiser in Atlantic City. It drew more than 100 bands and hundreds of attendees, raising about $5,000 for his cause.
This year's second annual Elephants for Autism Music Festival is set for May 19-21 and once again will gather more than 100 bands to perform through the weekend at the Boneyard and Le Grande Fromage, both in Atlantic City. Some popular bands to perform will include Position 9, the Mahlors, Juggernaut Drunk, Out of the Beardspace and the Galt Line, Ryan said.
Ryan is a music aficionado and the founder Elephant Talk Indie Magazine in 2009. His 10-year-old son, Jeremy, has autism. Jeremy also plays the piano and loves music, like his dad.
After witnessing music's positive effects on his son, Ryan began wanting to share the power of music with other children with autism, specifically those whose families can't afford extracurricular music programs.
Through the music festival, he is able to do just that. One hundred percent of the proceeds of this year's festival will go to Music Academy for Special Learners in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., a school that specializes in one-on-one instrumental lesson, music therapy and art instruction to people with disabilities, most of whom have autism, said Maria LaMon, owner of the academy.
The money will be used to provide need-based scholarships, LaMon said, adding that she plans to seek out students in need who could benefit from the school once she has the funding in place.
"It's such a beautiful, heartwarming thing that Jerry is doing," she said. "Music is an amazing learning tool for people with autism. It helps with their fine motor skills, hand and eye coordination, communication skills, but most of all it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. We don't focus on perfection at our school, our focus is on joy."
Ryan said of all the things he has done in his life, nothing has made him as excited as organizing the Elephants for Autism event.
"Knowing that these kids will be given the same opportunities as my son makes me extremely proud, but to take away the financial pressures is the icing on the cake," he said. "Having a child with autism, who excels in music, has helped me choose this course in life. My son inspires me to go bigger and do everything humanly possible every day to share this love of music. So basically, we are healing each other through music."
Contact Elisa Lala:
If you go
Elephants for Autism Music Festival
Le Grande Fromage, 25 S Presbyterian Ave., Atlantic City, and the Boneyard Bar and Grill, 20 S. Virginia Ave., Atlantic City
$10 daily access with all proceeds benefiting the Music Academy for Special Learners in New York
For showtimes and lineup, see facebook.com/ElephantsForAutism#!/events/142695012545508