Finding the Spark that Connects Us All

Our Cover Model – Amy Pinder

by Shannon Traphagen

A Buffalo native, Amy Pinder, MA, CCC-SLP, is co-founder, owner, and executive director of Inclusion Festival. She is also a yogi, hula hooper, arts enthusiast, and speech-language pathologist at Celebrate the Children in New Jersey with over ten years of experience working with individuals with neurodevelopmental differences. Acutely aware that one in every six children today experience communication and mobility challenges, Amy works daily to find the spark that connects us all.

Amy recalls, “While volunteering at a preschool in Buffalo during middle school, I watched as Ebony was punished for biting others. After calmly explaining to Ebony that teeth were made for chewing, eating, and helping to articulate her feelings, rather than hurting others, it was as if she had never considered this before. But she listened intently and stopped biting.”

It was experiences like this that helped shape Amy’s desire to work with children with special needs. Her first job after graduating from Hobart & William Smith, with a degree in Sociology and Special Education, was homeschooling a young girl with autism in California.

“Teaching Michelle was challenging and rewarding. She progressed from being functionally non-verbal to a young woman with vast interests, capable of asking thoughtful questions, and expressing genuine care for others. She is proof that communication skills are essential to living and functioning independently with dignity and happiness,” says Amy, whose next step was pursuing a master’s degree in speech and language pathology from Kean University in New Jersey.

Amy’s newest venture is a music and wellness festival for people of all ages with and without disabilities, that she co-founded with Leah Barron, a special education and yoga teacher. Leah and Amy met at a music festival, share a passion for helping children with special needs, and believe their friendship and business venture was destined. “I’ve had glimmers in my dreams of putting together a music festival for individuals with special needs for years,” says Amy. That dream has now become reality.

Inclusion Festival will take place on July 28 and 29 at Mountain Sky Festival Grounds in Jermyn, PA. People will be able to camp; experience live music and other performances; participate in workshops such as yoga, drumming, and hula hooping; enjoy interactive theatre and nature walks; learn about vocational resources, therapies, and opportunities; and enjoy themselves in a caring and relaxing space.

Inclusion Festival performers include Buffalo’s Max Muscato who, inspired by his brother, founded Rock Autism, a local non-profit that aims to support high-quality creative arts programs that maximize the potential of all people while reducing misinformation surrounding autism. “Some of our volunteers and performers have special needs. They contribute so much to society, and we can learn a lot from them,” said Amy.

“Festivals are essentially pop-up communities where people accept others, share experiences, and treat everyone equally.” says Amy. She adds, “Evidence shows that music is universally appealing and activates regions in our brain that release endorphins making us feel good, positively impacting the way we interact and socialize with others. What we are offering has never been done before. Our hope is to expand it to other cities across the nation, utilizing and showcasing resources from local communities, and helping others to drive social change.”

Amy is particularly proud of Inclusion Festivalpartner and sponsor, Accessible Festivals, a non-profit founded by attorney Austin Whitney, who became paralyzed due to a car accident. Determined to ensure festival accessibility to people of all abilities, Austin has worked with Coachella, Wanderlust, and other national festivals to make that possible. She is also grateful for support from The Jerry Garcia Foundation, Stage Trip Productions, The Scranton Area Foundation, Buffalo’s Mason’s Mission, Lackawanna County Arts and Culture, and many others.

Maintaining balance in her life is important to Amy. She and her husband Max, a geologist, enjoy healthy cooking, time with family and friends, and relaxing at home with their three cats. Amy also enjoys visiting family and friends in her native Buffalo, amazed at its ongoing vibrancy and transformation.

To learn how you can volunteer, participate, donate, become a sponsor, or purchase tickets for Inclusion Festival, visit www.inclusionfestival.com. Inclusion Festival also welcomes donations for scholarships for families unable to afford to attend Inclusion Festival on their GoFundMe page. Both Amy and Leah hope to see you there. After all, it’s only four hours away.