Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Groovin' on a Sunday Afternoon--Giving Thanks for Joanne Lara and Autism Works Now

Or...How a Fabulous Fundraiser Brings Old Friends Together for a Wonderful Celebration of a Superb Nonprofit Organization and an Inspirational Leader

That song by The Rascals brings back memories of simpler days and times. Life was uncomplicated. Love was in the air. Livin' was easy. And the biggest challenge in your day, if you were a young person, was where you were going to hear music that would change your world, maybe even change your life.

Today, as yesterday: Music works miracles. We see it every day. Music is one of the key variables to finding “normal” however you define it. (Below: Joanne Lara is not only beautiful on the outside; her heart is equally beautiful. Clifford Bell and Kiki Ebsen agree, "We're so impressed and amazed by all that Joanne has accomplished so far with her nonprofit leadership and direction. It's our pleasure to dedicating this brunch to her and the group she continues to pour her heart and soul into," said the show producers.)

One of the prime forces in Autism Movement Therapy, Joanne Lara first entered the profession of autism research when she, as a successful dancer and actress, went back to school and studied first principles and fundamentals of education. She came through those lessons inspired and on fire to change the world. And so she has. Lara researched and worked to create a program of music and movement for autistic youth that help them express themselves in the same “language” as others on the other side of the spectrum. When children and adults flow together in music and movement, you can’t tell one from another any longer. The pieces of the classic autistic puzzle begin to come together and fit together.

Lara, also founder of national nonprofit Autism Works Now, has taken it upon herself to create a source of jobs for individuals with autism. She daily works hard to train individuals to prepare for jobs in the mainstream—interview skills, preparing resumes, how to interact with others in the workplace, and how to find and keep a job and then live on a budget and plan for the future.

She then sought out employers to hire “her kids” and when she found more obstacles to overcome, she created a business, Glorious Pies, that employs youth with autism a “job with a paycheck.”

This work is only for the strong of mind and heart. In this career field, you don’t get a standing ovation when you have success getting one young person a job. It only changes their life. In the world of a child with autism, all that parents want is to know that the future, for their child, will be multidimensional, that they won’t be stuffed into a diagnosis, never to change, never to hope to become integrated with comfort into the mainstream. Victory for a parent is to know their child will live “happily ever after.” Until that day comes, parents never fully sleep well at night.

Autism. Special Needs. On the Spectrum. These three phrases are diagnoses. They have no face or heart or soul. They are clinical terms that correctly categorize individuals who are “not like the other ones” in their age group, in their neighborhood, in their peer group, in their family. In the time that the world outside of medicine has been aware of autism, there is still so much to learn and understand about what it means to be in a world of your own, and others who are not like you are seeking to communicate with you. And there is a difference on both sides of that. There is no right or wrong. Just different ways of communicating with those who love you using different language.

On November 19, host Shannon Penrod interviewed Joanne Lara, Kiki Ebsen and Clifford Bell to talk about this weekend's upcoming fundraiser. Penrod has an important daily broadcast, Autism Live, and their conversation can be found here:

Music works miracles.

Singer Kristina Marie Aguilar has studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and is making quite a name for herself as an ingenue cabaret jazz singer across California. She’s beautiful, she’s talented and she is on the spectrum. A young woman born into a world of “different,” it was when she heard the music of Disney films, that inspired her to reach out and show others how it moved her. Today, she communicates effusively through her music, and she is at “home” in front of and interacting with crowds and confesses only to a little stage fright before a show, like every other performer! That’s absolutely beautiful. Clifford Bell discovered her and so far, her recent performances have included sold-out audiences and standing ovations. Those are her "normal" today.

And so, on Nov. 24, at the gorgeous @Feinstein's at Vitello's, the newest hot spot in Studio City, you can groove this Sunday afternoon, while world-class entertainers entertain you with hit songs from their world, each of them touched and inspired by Joanne Lara's dedication and the wonderful people who learn from her and who are inspired to create and follow their own dreams, because she did it first.

Entertainers and Co-Hosts Kiki Ebsen and Clifford Bell have designed a beautiful brunch time musical interlude for you to have “you time” as you can Groove on a Sunday Afternoon! (Below: Clifford Bell and Kiki Ebsen)

Says Clifford, “Kiki will have a chance to mix it up between Jazz, Pop, Great American Songbook and her original Singer/Songwriter creations. There's really no genre that she doesn't make 'her very own,'" Bell said.

"We're so excited to have Terry Wollman; he is a celebrated producer, arranger and iconic guitarist. He has produced music for film and TV, produced his own jazz guitar albums as well as a recent album by legendary Melissa Manchester. This savant from Berklee College some years back has become known as the go-to best studio guitarist" among his peers. And he also has his own radio show, "Making it with Terry Wollman" on EnterTalk Radio as well!

Melanie Taylor, says Bell, has one of the "warmest and most pleasing voices I'd heard in quite a while, with an emotional clarity and authority of lyric.” Melanie recently concluded another international tour supporting entertainment icon Barry Manilow, and she and husband Terry Wollman, often enjoy performing together.

Corky Hale, who first came to fame with her amazing harp player, began her career first as pianist for jazz great Billie Holiday. From there, Corky became a fantastic musician and song stylist of her own accord as well as “one of my longtime dearest personal friends,” Bell said.

Warming the hearts of all audience members will be Katrina Marie Aguilar, Bell said. “Her story is beautiful but her voice is even more beautiful.”

Stephan Oberhoff has a superb career as a renowned producer, arranger, composer and pianists. "We are so fortunate to have him join us," Clifford said.

"Drummer Tom Bowe is my first-call drummer who brings such experience and versatility to our concerts," Bell noted.

"This gifted and lovely woodwind player is really Julie Sussman, but she is so spectacular on the saxophone that we've nicknamed her 'Julie Sax' and that's who she is to us now forevermore!" Bell said.

"Paul Morin on bass has exactly the right touch for our 'Giving Thanks' show," said Clifford Bell.

"Brad Ellis knows what I'm going to sing before I sing it so he can anticipate me perfectly as I sing my favorite songs," said Bell. All artists will be supported by a single band, led by renowned producer/keyboardist Stephan Oberhoff (Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Melissa Manchester) with Tom Bowe on drums, and Julie Sax on sax and flute, and Paul Morin on bass. Special guest Brad Ellis (“Glee,” “Bunheads”) will accompany Clifford Bell on his songs.

Tickets are only $25 (require two-item minimum purchase) to $100 (for VIP seating, valet parking and pre-fixed brunch) and all proceeds go to Autism Works Now. Purchase tickets at

Music is the universal language of love. Music heals hearts that are hurt and soothes minds that cannot bear any more cacophony of an outside world that doesn’t understand them. Music is the great equalizer and when everyone is united in voice or flowing across a stage or dance floor, the pieces of the puzzle all come together.

And all you see when you look straight ahead—is a beautiful blending of life and love. When you support “Giving Thanks” this weekend at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, who knows who your funds can inspire to go live out their dreams? It's only lives you are changing with your donations. The season of "Giving Thanks" is the perfect time to support the nonprofits you respect and show love to the people who run them 24/7 and devote their lives to giving back to others. Joanne Lara, these songs are for you!

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