A music therapist whose innovating music programs helped those with diverse abilities in Maple Ridge during the COVID-19 pandemic has won a provincial award for her work.
Birgit Giesser, a music therapist at Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living, RMACL, has won a Widening our World, or WOW, Award.
The WOW awards have been handed out since 2009 by Community Living British Columbia to recognize individuals or organizations whose work builds communities that make everyone feel welcome, valued and respected.
This year the awards celebrated those who helped keep others connected and included during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Giesser came up with the idea of providing drive-by music therapy sessions for her students following provincial health guidelines.
Music therapy is explained on the RMACL website as a program that is offered to adults transitioning from high school into Community Living services as well as adults in life skills programs and supportive leisure and employment programs.
“I realized that we all had to adapt and find ways to function, and that I needed to model not only survival but also how to thrive in a rapidly changing world,” said the RMACL music therapist in June.
What Giesser enjoys about music therapy is how it activates the joy, curiosity and skills within a person and allows them to share with one another.
“Music makes our lives meaningful and helps us cope with challenges,” she also noted.
Giesser was nominated by her mentor Margaret Ickert, lead community and employment services with RMACL, who explained how Giesser transformed her centre-based program to a mobile and digital outreach service and provided a, “much appreciated and supportive service for her client base.”
“This was especially true during phase one of lock down where individuals and caregivers were more socially isolated,” read Ickert’s nomination submission.
For some individuals, particularly for those individuals who were not able to access social media or connect with peers remotely due to disability, literacy or lack of computers, internet, continued the Ickert in her nomination, “these weekly sessions with Music Therapy were one of very few lifelines to the outside world if not the only lifeline to the outside world.”
Not only did Giesser offer a safe, socially distanced therapy session for her students, but she also offered an instrument “loaner library” to make sure everyone had the opportunity to take advantage of her sessions. After every session, these instruments would have to be sanitized for the next session.
She was also able to use technology to allow other participants to join remotely, adding a much-needed social aspect as well.
When the day programs at Community Living shut down, Giesser explained, her students were suddenly isolated.
And, she said, it is impossible to make music on Zoom, let alone teach parents and caregivers the technology. Plus, not everyone had musical instruments at home.
And, just watching her own daughter who receives services through Community Living B.C..
“She was home-stuck and I noticed we all spent our life on screen, and I didn’t want that and I thought it didn’t reflect what we were all about in our interactions,” explained Giesser.
So after brainstorming with Ickert, Giesser decided she would pack her program into her “little car” and drive around.
Giesser would meet up with around 20 students across Maple Ridge in outdoors spaces like car ports and driveways.
The program is funded through Music Heals, a not-for-profit society that raises awareness and funds to bring music therapy to vulnerable Canadians.
Giesser has since been able to move the program back inside where she sees one person for a 45-minute session and then she has to air out the space and sanitize before her next student.
“There are a lot of people that have issues with anxiety and this crisis really made people hide inside,” said Giesser.
And, she said, for some of her students, the ringing of the doorbell and her weekly visit was the one time they would venture outside their building.
“It was just a lot of joy in making music,” she said.
And, what she really liked about the mobile sessions was that she really got to know the parents and caregivers of her clients.
“As an agency we knew this service was valuable but we think even Birgit herself was moved by how important and meaningful these sessions were,” continued Ickert’s nomination.
One caregiver even remarked that their entire family looked forward to Music Therapy with Giesser because their loved one was energized and uplifted by the session, Ickert wrote.
Feedback included statements like, “It got me through this… I don’t know what I would have done without her”, and “COVID has been tough but Birgit helped me stay strong… I didn’t know I was a good singer”.
Giesser had never heard of the award before, and was honoured to receive it.
“I thought I just did my job and in order to have a job I needed to adjust,” she laughed.
“But, that they would recognize it as something special, I was really happy,” added Giesser.
For more information about Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living to go rmacl.org.