Strumming his way into the hearts of kids

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Stuart Epstein plays guitar for a Coronado High School special needs class. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Stuart Epstein plays guitar for a Coronado High School special needs class. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
"They just gravitate towards him," instructor Lisa Lacy says. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) "They just gravitate towards him," instructor Lisa Lacy says. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

With guitar in hand, Stuart Epstein is strumming his way into the hearts of kids.

Epstein has played guitar for years but only recently discovered his true calling.

"When I first started coming in here, I didn't know what to expect," he tells us. "Even though sometimes I don't think they're hearing me, they are."

Every week, you'll find Epstein volunteering his time, singing and playing for special needs kids at schools in the Scottsdale school district.

"I'm not a music therapist, I'm just a guy with a guitar," he says.

But at Coronado High School, it seems his music here is a form of therapy.

"Music is the only stimulus that uses every part of the brain, from the time you start playing a chord," he explains. 

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"They just gravitate towards him," instructor Lisa Lacy says. "He's very nice and warm and compassionate to the students through his music."

Lacy works with students with limited speech to non-verbal.

"And to see their faces light up," she says. "Their bodies move to the beat of the music. It's really wonderful." 

Melita Belgrave heads ASU's Music Therapy School, the only four-year board-certified music therapy program in the state.

She mimics much the same sentiments about the therapeutic effects of music and touts music can be healing.

"The great part about music is that it accesses all of the brain," she says. 

According to the American Psychological Association, there's compelling evidence that music "activates the body," can "treat pain" and "lower stress."

"Most people respond to music in a positive way," she explains. "But the benefit from having a music therapist is that we will go much deeper, in order to see more benefit, more skills, more growth and improvement."

Back in the classroom, Lacy tells us that she sees small victories with her students every time Epstein plays for her class.

"I have a student in particular who tends to be sort of antisocial but when Stuart comes, he's the first one up, next to him."

Epstein hopes to expand his young non-profit Six String Acoustic by providing more traveling musicians for people all over the Valley.

He says the goal is to "bring a live music experience to seniors, to children, that [sic] really don't get a chance to experience the live music performance but they deserve to."

In the meantime, the music is proving not only therapeutic for the kids, but for Epstein as well.

"I'm just trying to bring a little happiness," he tells us. "The only time that I can smile for an hour, is when I can come out and play these gigs." 

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