The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us
- June 7, 2023
Mike Wrench marches to the beat of a different drummer — because he IS that drummer. This 33-year old native of Nippenose Valley, and Jersey Shore High School grad has a unique passion. He uses percussion as therapy. That’s right — get to beat to get better. His program, entitled ‘Upbeat Outreach’, is designed to
Mike Wrench marches to the beat of a different drummer — because he IS that drummer. This 33-year old native of Nippenose Valley, and Jersey Shore High School grad has a unique passion. He uses percussion as therapy. That’s right — get to beat to get better. His program, entitled ‘Upbeat Outreach’, is designed to help students with disabilities use percussion instruments as a means of communication, therapy, and an expression of what individuals hear and feel in their heart. Its mission is to reach children and adults with the same common goal — understanding the beauty in how we are all different.
Mike did not set out to become a doctor with drums of sorts — it sort of found him. As a kid, he was a regular student, but could not help but notice those ‘other’ students who were different. They were termed “special”, but they did not seem to be treated that way. They were kept apart — in their own classes, their own gym class, a separated area in the cafeteria. Some were in wheelchairs, and others had some protective gear. Mike had an older cousin who was confined to a wheelchair, and was fascinated how he coped.
So after graduating from high school, Mike decided he wanted to work in a hospital and then at a home for elderly as an orderly. He did simple tasks, but he was a learner, watching how physical therapy and neural therapy was taking place. Beyond this, he wanted to help them. Even during his lunch breaks at the nursing home, he could not help but wander around and see who he could assist. It was that frustration for seven long years that he could not do more that caused the light bulb to suddenly go on in his head.
Since he was a little boy, Mike loved percussion. When he visited his grandfather’s fruit farm, he and his brother developed their own version of a ‘barnyard band’ with apple crates and empty cans. His mother was a huge Beatles fan, and his uncle played guitar, so music was a big part of his life growing up. Mom was supportive, and at age 18 he got his first drum set. It was like heaven!
So Mike thought, why not try using drumming to help those who don’t have a chance to express themselves? Mike founded Upbeat Outreach and began to get actively involved in local schools’ music programs and marching bands, schools’ disabilities classes, children’s development centers, community centers, and his church. The response was amazing, as there is something amazingly cathartic about percussion.
Mike became aware of an organization known as the Drums and Disabilities (DAD) Program. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Administration, and the New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner helped launch DAD as a special education school program in 2004. It is designed to provide Drum Therapy programs to schools, health facilities, and community centers by helping those with special needs develop physical and cognitive function. Mike went through the DAD Program and received his Drum Therapy Certification.
Talking to Mike, it is apparent that he truly loves what he does. He co-partners with Epic Percussion, which had been located on 3rd Street in Williamsport, but has recently relocated to 844 W. 4th Street, occupying the basement of Trinity Episcopal Church. They sell drums and give away hope for free. On a bulletin board at the store, there is a collection of cards and thank you notes from those who have been touched by Mike’s work.
One card on the board stands out. It was from a mother of a 16-year-old daughter who was in deep trouble. The girl was severely depressed, even self-harming herself, and no one knew what to do. The girl’s grandmother heard about Mike’s therapy and contacted him. It turned out that the youngster took to the instrument and loved playing and practicing. Mike even got her to help out at the Epic store, stocking shelves, and changing drumheads. The girl’s life turned around. The mom came into the store one day and handed him a thank you card and said, “You probably saved my daughter’s life.” Later, the girl confessed to Mike the very same thing.
Drum therapy may not be life-saving for many, but it is life-affirming and fulfilling. Mike Wrench has a simple goal in life — serve as an advocate to help the special needs population, using drumming as therapy. Exciting clinic performances and life lessons along the way!
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