Ridge Meadows Association For Community Living

Maple Ridge, BC

Partially adopted by our
generous donors

While still in its infancy, the Music Therapy program at RMACL continues to amaze and delight  participants, caregivers and support workers. It is wonderful to have a therapeutic modality that meets the needs of participants consistently providing a barrier free experience for all.

This past year, the ever changing safety demands in regards to providing supports during the pandemic required us to pivot not once but many times to meet the needs of our participants.  This has not been easy but we feel strongly that the support provided by Music Heals has been key in helping us achieve, maintain and continue to grow this amazing resource. We are also critically aware of how this therapy was essential in helping many individuals cope with the stressors of it all.

Margaret Ickert

Lead, Community and Employment Services

In the summer of 2020 mobile and outdoor-based music therapy sessions were facilitated by Ridge Meadows Association For Community Living (RMACL) as a way of pivoting during the height of the pandemic. In late 2020 and early 2021, the organization worked on returning to offering in-person sessions onsite. For some residents, returning to the music therapy program helped them feel safe returning to their other Community Inclusion programs. Since April 2021, the program has gone from running 3 days to 5 days a week. As of September 2021, the music therapy program will be supporting children and youth (10 hrs/week) and adults (20 hrs/week). 

It is anticipated that a hybrid model of indoor and outdoor music therapy sessions continue to provide the greatest flexibility during pandemic times. Outdoor home visits may also need to continue for immuno-compromised participants. For the foreseeable future, 1-1 sessions will be the necessary way to interact in music therapy, and small group music-making is dependent on regulations set out by BC PHO and CLBC.


RMACL serves infants, children, youth, adults and senior adults with developmental, neurological, and physical disabilities. The agency supports children at risk for developmental delay and their families, individuals who have a mental health diagnosis or behavior and learning disabilities in addition to their cognitive disability, as well as individuals with FASD and neurodiversity (ASD).

Ages: 0 – 55



“The adult population that receives services through RMACL has very unique needs in terms of their mental health: it appears that positive relationships and stable support from family and staff, solid routines at home and at their programs, and a steady sprinkling of fun and favourite activities have helped individuals weather this past year. Already in late 2020, people were adjusting to the new normal of restrictions and rules. The availability of vaccines, clear, consistent instructions on how to keep ourselves and each other safe, and hope for a return to our day programs gave participants and staff hope and helped us stay patient and kind. Overall, participants have shown themselves to be amazingly resilient.

The availability of music therapy has helped stave off boredom, has given participants a creative outlet, opportunities for learning and fulfillment, and enabled people to be fully engaged in the present moment rather than stay preoccupied with worries about the future. We have also addressed their feelings of loneliness, boredom, fear and worry.

The music therapist paid particular attention to participants’ needs for varying degrees of structure and predictability, as reflected in reliably scheduling their sessions, making a plan and a checklist with the elements they needed/wanted, introducing elements of surprise and novelty, gently, and presenting cognitively and physically challenging learning material gradually. Certainly for some participants who are more prone to experiencing higher levels of anxiety, music therapy provided a momentary distraction. For some of them, avoiding talk of Covid entirely became quite important. For others, being an empathetic listener meant letting them talk about the pandemic before shifting their attention to their goals, the music and our interactions.”

Navigating The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

“The pandemic limited the overall number of participants we were able to reach, but it did not seriously impact the number of 1-1 sessions we held, with the exception of having to air out/sanitize the studio and having to avoid participants overlapping. Group work proved impossible until the end of June, and the integration of music therapy into the Children/Youth department was slower than anticipated.”

Expanding this program would create inclusion to extend involvement for additional adults whose health, disabling conditions or behavioural challenges do not allow their participation in the program, especially during the pandemic. It will also create a new music therapy program designed to engage youth with developmental disabilities.

The support of Music Heals funding over the last two years has shown RMACL the breadth and depth of what can be created with stable funding. It is fully evident that music therapy encourages mental wellbeing, supports skills improvement and provides sheer joy in social and musical interactions.

Your support will help RMACL sustain music therapy programming for 2022.

In the future, RMACL plans on making the music therapy program full-time, with several music therapists on board, and CapU students joining the team. While one large space is currently being renovated to become the music therapy studio, several satellite locations at other day programs provide space for music therapy sessions elsewhere.

Expanding this program would create inclusion to extend involvement for additional adults whose health, disabling conditions or behavioural challenges do not allow their participation in the program, especially during the pandemic. It will also create a new music therapy program designed to engage youth with developmental disabilities.

AP has the gift and challenge of echolalia: he is able to imitate almost any gesture, facial expression and sing a musical note immediately. AP is considered non-verbal, but he reads and sings all song lyrics. He loves to sing and is very expressive. However, he does not understand what it means to make a choice, and he relies on the staff at RMACL to make most decisions for him. In music therapy, AP enjoys the closeness to another person through song duets and four-handed piano playing. He is also being taught to play the keyboard from modified sheet music which teaches him to rely on his own skills and grow independence, free from verbal prompting.

AP relaxes noticeably when improvising as it allows him to create something new. He generally moves and speaks slowly and hesitatingly, but during music therapy he is able to dance and play percussion with a greater range of expression. With the help of music therapy, AP experiences important social communication elements such as leading, following, listening, waiting, elaborating and responding.


Birgit Giesser, B.Ed. (music), BMT, MTA, NMT has over 20 years of experience working in early childhood music education, music therapy for school age children and youth, adults with developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, and seniors at home, in assisted living and longterm care facilities. She uses flute, guitar, piano, percussion and voice in her clinical practice. She has certification in Neurologic Music Therapy (2019), is trained in various approaches to care with persons with dementia, level 1 Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), and has taught the Musical Rainbow Early Childhood Music Program for 8 years. She has worked for RMACL since September 2018.

You can help us reach more Canadians with the healing power of music. We invite you to give the gift of music to provide hope, strength, relief and encouragement to Canadians in need.

No contribution is too small!