Co-founder of RicStar's Camp honored her late son's legacy by celebrating children with disabilities

"I’m Judy Winter - an award-winning writer, author, columnist, and co-founder of the Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp (aka RicStar’s Camp) at the Michigan State University (MSU) Community Music School - from East Lansing, Michigan, USA I am also a 2019 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth, a former United State of Women Ambassador (USOW) representing Michigan, and an Outstanding Alum from the MSU College of Comm Arts & Sciences.

Image: Judy with son, Eric

My son, Eric, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth after a traumatic delivery that almost cost both of us our lives. When we were told that Eric would not achieve much, I chose to ignore the limiting words and instead gave my son every opportunity to succeed in life. I chose a bold parenting style at a time when society was neither talking about nor celebrating the potential of children with special needs or recognizing the value of their hard-working, dedicated families.

Image: Judy at L'oreal Women of Worth
Image: Judy at L'Oreal Women of Worth

When I searched for a book to help me parent my child with a disability, to my surprise I could not find anything useful. So, I wrote my own guidebook to help other families. Published shortly after my son’s death at age 12 in 2003 by Wiley Publishers, “Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations,” shared success stories, parenting tips, and resources that I never had. I also wrote newspaper columns and features capturing our life with both our children and disability parenting. I told my son that we would share what we learned with others.

When Eric was three years old, we discovered that he had a gift for music. He soared in music therapy classes for many years and began writing music shortly before he died. It was our hope that state-of-the-art technology would help him further pursue his music dreams.

When he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 2003 at age 12, we were devastated. Because I had been a columnist honestly sharing my parenting experiences, the community felt they knew us. The result was $10,000 in memorial gifts given, funds that helped us begin the Eric “RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp, aka RicStar’s Camp, just months after Eric died. The camp welcomes individuals of all ages and all disabilities and their siblings into an inclusive camp setting focused on nurturing and celebrating individual abilities. No one has ever turned away because of financial need. Everyone gets to shine, and valuable friendships are formed. We just completed our 18 years of RicStar’s Camp. Our son’s legacy lives on in beautiful ways.

One great camp success story includes that of a young camper whose parents were told she would never walk. In the first year of camp, she stood up by herself because she wanted to take part in the activities. The next year, she walked in with a walker. I strongly believe that music is incredibly powerful. Music therapy helps campers make essential gains in social, emotional, and physical ways, while they also have great fun.

Image: Eric's picture

Another camper with autism had never spoken. One day he walked by and said, “Hello Judy Winter.” Moments that seem like a given to others are true gifts for our families. Finally, it always moves us deeply when parents come up to us with tears in their eyes to share hugs and thank us for providing this incredible place where their children feel welcomed.

I am a big believer in community volunteerism and the power of one person to make a difference, and I try hard to live that out. When I am not trying to change the world, I love indulging in design, cooking, fashion, photography, reading real books, gardening, and travel, especially to my favorite city, Paris. I believe kindness is the greatest gift you can extend to another human being. Its power is vastly underrated. Kindness makes us better human beings, not weaker.

You Humanity pays respect and gratitude to Judy Winter for going above and beyond to contribute towards Humanity.

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