MR. RUSSO: Welcome, everyone, to Family Cornes First. I’m Vincent J. Russo.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And I’m Victoria Roberts-Drogin. Thank you for joining us today. Vincent, over the past six seasons, we hav been blessed to share the stories of some amazing families.

MR. RUSSO: We sure have been.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Yes. And each year, we take a look back at that inspiring roster and we ask one of our families to come back and update us on how they ‘re doing. MR. RUSSO: Today, we are thrilled to reacquaint you with Sidiki Conde along with Susan Russo of the Theresa Academy. I think I know her.


MR. RUSSO: Sidiki was born in West Africa, and as a child, suddenly and inexplicably, lost the use of his legs. Despite such a life altering challenge, he ‘s an accomplished dancer, singer, musician and songwriter.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And we will also meet with our experts, Lisa Dennett of Ideas and Kirn Christian, of your law firm, Vincent, to discuss the resources that are available for the disabled. But first, let’s take a look at Sidiki ‘s story.

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SIDIKI CONDE: For me, dancing is healing. Dance is really good medicine. Dancing comes into your mind, cleaning everything to be healthy. This is my point, because when I was having disabled, I was so sad at myself, and it was so hard to be walking around and to be close to people, and when I’ve been artist, it be easy, my sides go, everything be great for me. My life wonderful. I’ve been sleeping good. So I want to my friend learn from this, too. It’s not about medicine. It’s not about angry. It’s not about happiness. It’s about feeling the way you are. Anytime you can breathe yourself, you can eat something, try to be happy yourself a little bit. Yes, this is my message to the world. All the world. I finish this movie that you ‘re watching. It was so hard to edit it, to talk to editor. It was so hard for me to be agreed by the teachers, you know. That movie is done. My experience to make the movie, it’s a really good thing. And first of all, I want to put on my past. I not forgot. And the second one, I want to share – and thank my wife, Deborah Ross helping me a lot to find the right people to help me make my movie, and I just hope that a little imagination can help me a little bit to bring my school home, my hope, help my disabled kids and that ‘s all I’m doing. This is what my hope is. This is what I’m trying, because we ‘re struggling the disabled children ‘s home, especially New Guinea. The people is normal. They have the food. They have everything. They have no problem. About us, some of us have [indiscernible] eyes. You know you must begging to survive. That’ s why I want to bring this school, if I can help them [indiscernible] because that’ s our tomorrow. Come here to TAPA, I’m thanking Susan. I thank Susan so much and Deborah and Susan’s husband, Vincent, they ‘re human beings. Don’t do something because I can do. But do something to make somebody proud and say own life, that you’re doing good. I thank them so much what they do for me and for all kids. Not only me, everybody. Yeah. MR. HOLMES: TAPA for me is like a family. I love coming back. Every summer I’m here for a week. A very welcoming crew, and we love having volunteers. The children are great. I love seeing them play, smile and have a great time. Music is constantly playing here at TAPA. Every room. Even outside we have music going. Music, different games, drumming. MS. VALENTI: I have twins and they ‘ve been corning to TAPA for about four years now, five years, and they come here for summer camp every year. One has autism and cerebral palsy, and my son has ADHD. My son is definitely a big fan of Sidiki. He comes here, he drums. He loves drumming. It made him take drum lessons from the time he ‘s met Sidiki. He’ s been taking his own private drum lessons. MR. HOLMES: Sidiki is amazing. The second he walks in the gate, all the children are very excited. He plays with them outside and he gets them engaged in the drumming and dancing, even the volunteers are into it. The teachers are into it. I love going to his class and it’s great. Very lively.

SIDIKI CONDE: My big family now, that ‘s when I play with them. That ‘s the big one, big family. Eh, you know, they teach me to be calm. They teach me to be patient. This is my problem. I didn’t have a lot of patience, but when I look at them, I prove that myself, my heart says, wow. I must be patient. Yes, I must do like them. So I’m so happy to be with them. And I can feel the heart, my heart, the same. And that ‘s wonderful.

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MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: So today ‘s show, as you know, is called, ”The Rhythm of the Soul” and we have an amazing artist, musician, dancer with us today who we ‘ve spoken with before and are so excited to have back with us. MR. RUSSO: Joining us is Sidiki Conde and his close friend, Susan Russo the executive director of the Theresa Academy of Performing Arts for children with special needs and president of the Theresa Foundation. I think I know both of you very well.

SIDIKI CONDE: Yes, that’s true

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Very close friends.

MR. RUSSO: Welcome back.

SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here this morning.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And we are so happy to have you here. So what have you been doing, Sidiki? Tell us a little bit about some of the things that you’ve been working on.

SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you for asking that. First of all, I’ve been teaching school for the special kids. I teach, if you’re not disabled, you’re not special, but I teach them, too, because I work on different schools and different areas. Sometimes I travel to go to Florida and do two weeks a workshop, and at the end they will do a show, and New York City, sometimes they hire me.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Wonderful. So you’re doing workshops with special needs kids with all kids.


MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And putting on a show at the end of the two­ week workshop?


MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: That ‘s amazing.

SIDIKI CONDE: Yes, that ‘s what I do.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: What a wonderful thing.

SIDIKI CONDE: That makes my life wonderful and consider myself, I can do something by my life. gift.

MR. RUSSO: Well, you ‘re a very giving person.


MR. RUSSO: And I know that you give at the Theresa Academy as a master?

MS. RUSSO: Master teacher. He’ s our guest artist.

MR. RUSSO: about Sidiki. So, Susan tell us

MR. RUSSO: We at the Theresa Academy refer to Sidiki as the kid whisperer. We can take the crankiest most out of sorts, tired, grumpy little child and Sidiki comes in through the door and within a minute, they ‘re smiling, and laughing and participating and it’s fabulous.

MR. RUSSO: does that happen? Sidiki, why? Why

SIDIKI CONDE: Because we feel together, we are connected, so everything inside my heart they ‘re feeling, so I have to be, go back and forth back and forth and our mind is connected together. It’s so great. It teaches me, too. Every time I come to the Theresa Foundation my mind, what I’m going to be with them and to be okay. And when I get there, thank God, it’s what a way. What a way.

MR. RUSSO: That’s wonderful.


MR. RUSSO: So when does the camp run?

MS. RUSSO: We have three weeks of camp, and we run it as an interim camp, because our children are in very regimented programs every day during the academic school year, so then the school year ends, and there’ s this odd week where the parents are pulling their hair out and the children are confused, because now they ‘re not on a schedule. So, we run a week of camp between the end of the academic year and the beginning of most summer programs, and most of our kids, they have IEPs, and they are in special ed programs, they do go to school during the summer or there is a camp, some sort of camp program for them for at least six weeks and then there ‘s an odd two weeks at the end of the summer, right before school starts back and again, it’s a nice performing arts camp on a beautiful consistent schedule, and it keeps the parents from going crazy, and it keeps the kids active.


MS. RUSSO: And engaged.

MR. RUSSO: Why do you believe, because I know you do, that it’s important that children have the opportunity in the arts?

SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you for asking that. I believe it because everything, you have to give opportunity to anybody to feel yourself and to become comfortable and have happiness. I was having that problem first when I was having new disabled.


SIDIKI CONDE: And the people was all look at me like miserable give me sad, and that was pain for me, because what I want to do, I can’t do now because you give me sad think of me. So that hold me back and put my energy down. But I find my happiness, I follow you my happiness. My energy come out. That ‘s why I believe it’s important what we do with the kids.

MR. RUSSO: Sure.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: That joy comes out through performing.

MR. RUSSO: And giving self­ esteem. Self-esteem to feel good about themselves.

SIDIKI CONDE: Feel good.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And the kids feel that joy reflected to them.


MS. RUSSO: And there ‘s so many different ways to communicate and express yourself. Some of our children really enjoy music class, and some are totally immersed in painting and working with their hands and dancing, so every child has different skill sets and it’s wonderful for them. It does build self­ confidence and self-esteem for them to be able to show what they can do, rather than what they can’t do.


MS. RUSSO: And that ‘s what we try to focus on at camp and in classes. Sidiki has had children, non­ verbal children start talking during his classes.


MS. RUSSO: And the teachers in the school are like, wait a minute. How did you do that?


MR. RUSSO: That’ s amazing.

SIDIKI CONDE: I don’t want nobody help me, so say what you can and they talk to me and I understand.

MR. RUSSO: You have such a varied group of kids.

MS. RUSSO: We do.

MR. RUSSO: Kids who have cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome and then other kids who are on the autism spectrum. MS. RUSSO: Autism spectrum. Children who are verbal, children who are non-verbal, different ambulatory skills. bored. It makes for a fun day. Never

SIDIKI CONDE: It is fun.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: You ‘re taking this back to your project at home.

SIDIKI CONDE: At home, back home, yes. I got a good idea to take it back home, because disabled at home it’s not bad to be disabled. But the children that got it, how their life going to be, because they didn’t have a chance to go to school, and the parents don’t do anything, except beg in the street. Sometimes, the kid has to go outside begging and come bring it. So I want to change that. You know, disabled is one thing. But your life depend upon you and your family. And that way when the children have a better school, and a better education that can be changed a lot to take the parents out of the street. MR. RUSSO: What are you trying to do now?

SIDIKI CONDE: Right now I have a land and I do the foundation and maybe – – –

MR. RUSSO: So you’re building a school.

SIDIKI CONDE: Yes. That ‘s what I do. That was my dream. That ‘s what makes me dance. That’ s what makes me a musician because I have my own kid. If I lost four, I still have two [fingers]. Thank God, they ‘re healthy and they ‘re great. They change my life every day. MR. RUSSO: Well, if anyone wants to make a donation to help you, they can send it to the Theresa Foundation and mention your school.


MR. RUSSO: Sidiki, and we ‘ll earmark those funds and will be more than happy to give them to you and support you, and I know there are a lot of generous people out there. They just need to know about it.

SIDIKI CONDE: A big thanks to help the life.

MR. RUSSO: Anything that either one of you want to say directly to the children? We ‘re hoping that some children are watching this show. What would you say to them?

SIDIKI CONDE: What I have to say to all the children and the grown­ ups, everybody life depends on you. To enjoy life, the simple is smiling and be [indiscernible] to society, because life will pass you running around. When you participate, you be wonderful, you be great. Put your head every time, so something wonderful to myself and to everybody. That ‘s what I can say.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Words to live by.

MS. RUSSO: It all goes back to the Golden Rule that we were taught in church as children.


MS. RUSSO: Do unto others, what you would have them do unto you.

MR. RUSSO: Simple but beautiful.

MS. RUSSO: Simple, but beautiful.

MR. RUSSO: Powerful. I can’t thank both of you enough for being on our show today, because of all the good work that both of you do, and the teachers –

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And the joy that you bring.

MR. RUSSO: – – – and people you work with. Yes, the joy is incredible.


MR. RUSSO: Thank you so much. Blessings to you.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Thank you both.

SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you.

MR. RUSSO: And you look great.

SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Thank you. We’ re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk to our experts on the rights of people with disabilities.

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MR. RUSSO: Welcome back to Family Comes First. We just heard from Sidiki Conde talking about his hopes for children with disabilities in Africa.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Yes, inspiring. And we heard from your wife Susan, of the Theresa Academy. Even in this country, children with special needs don’t have the same opportunities in the arts as their able bodied counterparts.

MR. RUSSO: That ‘s right. Joining us today is Lisa Dennett, the law firm. Welcome.

MS. DENNETT: Thank you.

MS. CHRISTIAN: It’s nice to be here.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Welcome. Lisa, what is IDEAS?

MS. DENNETT: IDEAS, first of all is an acronym. It stands for Interactive Drama for Education and Awareness in Schools.

MR. RUSSO: Wow, a mouthful.

MS. DENNETT: Which is a mouthful, which is why we say IDEAS, and we are a non-profit charity organization that is dedicated to bringing dramatic arts to kids with disabilities and other disadvantages. MR. RUSSO: Why are the arts so important to children with special needs?

MS. DENNETT: Well, it’s funny. I always laugh when people ask me that, because just to me it’s like a given. I mean, we ‘re born being creative. We all just have it inherent in us, and as we grow up we’ re kind of told that we’re not supposed to do that anymore, that ‘s not important anymore, we’ re not kids anymore, now we have to be serious. But in terms of learning, and I have to say not just for kids with disabilities, we all learn differently, and some of us learn better through the arts or with the arts, or can find success and talent in the arts they never would have known they had, if they weren’t exposed to them.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Fabulous. Kim, if someone has a physical disability and they want to access some of these programs, what planning, what legal planning, what strategic planning can be done for parents of children so that they can participate.

MS. CHRISTIAN: Sure, what you want to make sure you have is documents in place that make sure that your wishes are carried out. So you want to have your advanced directives, such as your power of attorney, which is for financial decision making. It allows you to access funds for the program. Or a health care proxy to make sure your health care plan is carried out. This is for anybody over the age of eighteen. Everybody should be in a position where their wishes are able to be carried out.

MR. RUSSO: So it doesn’t matter whether someone is physically disabled like Sidiki or not, these are important planning documents.

MS. CHRISTIAN: Right. In fact, it doesn’t matter. Yes.

MR. RUSSO: Tell us more about your work in the school system.

MS. DENNETT: Well, we do in­ school residencies. Minimum of eight visits, usually, whether it’s once a week or twice a week, and we work directly with the classroom teachers, and we work with K ‘s through 12’s; so 5- year olds to 21-year olds. What we do at IDEAS is generate more ideas through improvisation. Everything we do is dramatic arts, but everything we do is rooted in improvisation, because we feel that it puts everyone on the same playing field. We don’t have to have any kids worried about not reading on the same level as anybody else. There are students who really can’t memorize things, like they would a traditional script in a traditional theater, so we help them tap into their imagination and create theater from what’ s in their own minds.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: That ‘s so empowering.

MS. DENNETT: ownership of it. They really take

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Yes. So with this sense of independence, it goes beyond the arts. And, Kim, I know, there has to be issues with housing and living on your own and functioning on your own; how does that work legally? MS. CHRISTIAN: Well, when it comes to housing options, there ‘s different availabilities out there. You can stay at home, sometimes with supportive care in the home and assistance there. There’s also assisted living. You can do that as well, which will allow you to be in an independent environment. Or, you could also have a situation where you live with a family member where they ‘re assisting you as well.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: What about government benefits? How does that play into this?

MS. CHRISTIAN: Well, you can access the social security system, and there are two programs available. There ‘s supplemental security income which is SSI, and there’ s also SSDI. One, SSDI is not means tested, and SSI is a program for someone with limited resources. It allows them to actually get monies every month so they can use it for their supportive living.

MR. RUSSO: Lisa, what can parents do to ensure that the arts are available to their children?

MS. DENNETT: Well, I think, first of all, parents can be the best advocates for their own children. There are a couple of things that I think parents can do. One, is even if, when the child is first going to school, just the fact that they ‘re going to ask, what kind of arts does this school have, what kind of arts will my child be engaged in, communicates to the school that that parent really believes that the arts have a benefit for their own child. Depending on what the answer is, I mean even schools that have an art teacher, even if it’s only one person, they ‘re not reaching every student in that school. The other thing the parent can do, and a lot of parents don’t know this is the student has an IEP, the parent –
MR. RUSSO: What’ s an IEP?

MS. DENNETT: Individualized Education Plan. And the majority of students with disabilities in schools have an IEP and there ‘s a team usually composed of support staff, related service providers, parents and the teachers, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan for that student, and a parent can request either that the arts are in that plan somehow, or at least have an arts teacher, if there is one, be on that team.

MR. RUSSO: Such valuable information. Many parents have no idea. But they will learn from IDEAS. What about after school? The kids all come home from school and the child who has special needs often, unfortunately, comes home and now is limited in activities that they can get engaged in while their siblings run off to play.

MS. DENNETT: Right. There ‘s definitely barriers there that can be addressed, if the school itself has an after-school program, the challenge is often transportation, depending on the student’ s disability and how they travel to and from school. So that ‘s often the And so you’re right, then they go home and they ‘re – – -some of the problem is really just not knowing what ‘s out there that’ s appropriate for students. There are programs for students with a variety of disabilities, there are programs for students with specific disabilities that have after­ school programs like the Theresa Academy for the Performing Arts, which has after-school and weekend programs, but it’s a matter of getting the word out to the parents and the schools for that matter, because the schools can actually do a lot to communicate that to the parents. MR. RUSSO: What about this idea of a memorandum of intent, a blueprint for parents?

MS. CHRISTIAN: Nobody knows their child better than their parents, so what I always tell our parents is, let’s do a memorandum outlining all the things they like, all the things they need. It’s a blueprint of how they would want to carry out their life and you’re putting it in place in advance so you can make sure they ‘re taken care of.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: It’s so important, because each child has different interests, and passions and you know – – – there’ s no one document. I mean, there may be a document that allows you to carry it out, but not if you don ‘t know what it is.

MS. CHRISTIAN: That’ s right.

MR. RUSSO: And you don’t have to pay a lawyer for it, which is nice.

MS. DENNETT: That’ s right. Yes.

MR. RUSSO: It’s not a legal document. As we ‘re running out of time. What message would you like to send about your program and the children that you’re helping to our viewers?

MS. DENNETT: I would basically say that arts can help any student of any ability, and that it’s vital to their growth and development as a person, and that money should not prevent you from having programs in your school. People like IDEAS are willing to work with you and figure out how to make that happen.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Money doesn ‘t need to prevent you.

MS. DENNETT: Correct.

MR. RUSSO: That ‘s fantastic. I could tell you’re a powerhouse.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And we know you’re a powerhouse.

MS. CHRISTIAN: Thank you.

MR. RUSSO: Thank you Kim and Lisa for being on our show today.

MS. CHRISTIAN: Thank you.

MS. DENNETT: Thank you.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: And now we turn to Father Tony Stanganelli for a spiritual reflection.

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FR. STANGANELLI: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with a very familiar Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. We ‘ve seen in different translations that that word ”blessed ” really means be happy. is teaching us right from the very Jesus beginning that in all circumstances of life, poverty, or in sorrow, a loss, or even in our own meek, modest lowly situations, choose to be happy. Just a little bit. As Sidiki tells us in the music and in the drumming and in the singing, the people who are there are a part of the TAPA, Theresa Academy of Performing Arts, they find the excitement of life itself, and they don’t focus on what has been removed from them but that internal spirit that will never die.

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MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Here on the show, we are very excited about Sidiki’ s project, which he spoke about a little bit is to build a new school for chidren with disabilities and the children of parents with disabilities as well, in Guinea, West Africa.

MR. RUSSO: As we mentioned earlier in our show if you would like to make a donation you can go to the Theresa Foundation website at and earmark your donation to Sidiki ‘s project.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: He said it won’t take that much. You know they ‘ve already got the foundation laid, the walls are coming up.

MR. RUSSO: They need $60,000 to build this school.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Yes. And for further information about the resources that we ‘ve discussed, the Theresa Academy of Performing Arts, and our guests who joined us today, you can go to www.tapany

MR. RUSSO: And as Sidiki plans for his future, he very much is living in the moment. He is living a life, doing what he loves, while making a difference in the lives of others.

MS. ROBERTS-DROGIN: Vincent, your website also has additional resources.

MR. RUSSO: Absolutely. Any way we can help.


MR. RUSSO: Thanks to all our viewers for joining us, and remember, family truly does come first.

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