Whether you are a sports fanatic, liberal arts major, a politician at heart, or a huge environmentalist, you can be sure there is one thing we all have in common - Music! Music is what brings us all together.

Although Honesdale may be a small town, we all come from different backgrounds and interests.

One thing we can all agree on is that music makes us sing, dance, find common ground and even overcome fear and insecurities. It is the break we need from the mundane everyday life whether you are singing and dancing around the house or having a concert in your car getting those incredulous stares from onlookers, you know you that freedom of happiness when you can just sing and be yourself.

It is quite possibly the only source of happiness we have that makes us feel comfortable enough to come out of our shell and overcome insecurities to have a good time.

Now there is an upcoming event where people in our community can show off their talents more than ever called Open Mic/Karaoke Night Special Edition sponsored by Community Vocational Services, The Wayne County Bar Association, and AM Skier Insurance. This event is tailored towards our special needs community of people who love to sing and show off their true talents!

PA. Magisterial District Judge, Alan Cooper, is one of the organizers of this Open Mic Night Event and will be acting as the MC. Although this is not his first time hosting an event such as this one. As Alan explains, “I was hosting an open mic at the Cocoon a few years back when a young man with Down Syndrome asked he could perform. During his set, I noticed there was a group of differently abled spectators with him. I asked if anyone else wanted to perform, and after a few of them got behind the mic, the idea of an “Open Mic – Special Edition” was born.”

Alan has been involved with the special needs community for several years and has contributed in other ways such as founding the Wallenpaupack Area Little League Challenger Division for special athletes in 2010 and will begin its ninth year in 2019.

The stars seemed to be aligned that first night at the Cocoon as Alan was able to connect with Jason Merrill and Kim Emmet, Director of Community Vocational Services. As Jason explains, “I was first informed of the event by Alan Cooper, who is a regular at open mics and who has taken over hosting of the first Friday open mics at the cocoon, which was my old job.” Kim Emmet was also at the first open mic night that evening and witnessed firsthand the potential for success for the special needs community.

“I was at the same event as Alan,” says Kim, “It was a truly magical night!  Alan approached me a few weeks later and we have been doing this now for our fourth year.  It has been an honor and pleasure to work with both Alan and Jay!”

When asked how these organizers of different backgrounds all became interested in coordinating an Open Mic Night event for the special needs community, Jason says, “I assist with the care of a gentleman with Autism, although this is a paid position. I have taken part in the Challenger baseball games, and have collaborated with the Human Resources Center of Wayne County in the past for volunteer cleanup efforts.” Kim also adds, “I have been the owner of Community Vocational Services for almost five years and a Special Olympics coach for just as long.  We were also one of the sponsors for the recent Pop-up Prom.  My son, Charlie is differently abled and any opportunity that he has to learn, grow, and develop we get involved in or we create it!”

Although these three organizers may have totally different careers and lives, they all share a passion for music and the special needs community. Going into its fourth year, this Open Mic Night is slated to be a true success with a large turnout. It may not just be about having a good time to everyone and can also serve as a safe event to overcome a fear or stigma about being who you are and, more importantly, being okay with that.

As Jason says, “People who have disabilities can sometimes be prevented from opportunities to express themselves. Whether or not a person with disabilities you know wants to perform or not, they can be inspired by the performances. In all of our daily lives, representation is immensely important.

"Even if a person NEVER performs, seeing others that do in similar situations can help them to achieve and progress in their lives like never before. Those who can perform get immense gratification from being able to express themselves in a safe place. Some might even go onto performing at some of the weekly or monthly open mics in our area! Those who might have more typical situations should still go, however. To watch these performers overcome fear, stigma, and sometimes immense difficulty is inspiring to everyone. This is an essential event for our community - not just for those with disabilities, but for those who care about all of our loving community.”

“The growth in confidence has been incredible,” adds Kim, “We see folks do things we never knew they were capable of doing!  Performances have evolved incredibly over the years.  Some who came the first year as an audience member are now becoming steady performers each year.”

There is an underlying theme overall to this event and as Jason, Alan, and Kim promise, you will not be disappointed! “I promise you will leave this event feeling one thousand times better than you did when you arrived,” says Alan, “There is simply nothing like it.”

There are no better opinions to ask about this event than from the performers themselves! Matt Paladino is a regular attendee and performer at Open Mic Night and has been going since its first year. When asked why Matt likes Open Mic Night, he says, “Because it’s fun. I like getting up and singing. I’ve been doing it every year. I plan to sing songs this year from The Greatest Showman such as “This Is Me” and “Come Alive.” I also like being with my friends.”

Becky Hebert is another regular attendee at the Open Mic Night and has attended for the last three years. Becky loves to sing and when asked what she likes best about open mic night, Becky says, “I like to get up and sing and be with my friends. This year I plan on singing This Land Is Your Land.”

Open Mic Night/Karaoke Edition will be held on Sunday April 28th from 2:00-5:00 at the Bodhi Tree Art School and Studio located at 214 6th Street in Honesdale. Admission is free but donations are encouraged and all proceeds will go towards the local Area P Special Olympics Chapter. Refreshments will also be available at no charge. As said by Kim Emmet, “It is a truly magical event and your heart will smile the entire time!”