While working as a teacher at Akins High School, Tressie Seegers was unsettled by the lack of summertime art and music programs in Austin geared toward mentally disabled students. In 2010 she started the Austin Harmony Project in hopes of enriching the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.
“Part of basic human need is belonging to a group,” Seegers said. “This population doesn’t always get that
opportunity because they are marginalized by society, so I wanted to create a space for them to come and feel that they belong.”
The program, which started as a summer camp at Akins, today is housed in a 2,000-square-foot unit in a strip mall on Stassney Lane. The nonprofit offers a year-round
day program that allows disabled men and women to participate in art projects and musical performances as well as an after-hours program for smaller groups. About 40 men and women are currently enrolled, Seegers said.
Participating in the creative process is a form of therapy for individuals with developmental disabilities, Seegers said.
“The act of sitting, painting and listening to music tends to have a calming effect,” she said.
Austin Harmony Project is funded mostly through individual donations, Seegers said. Each year the nonprofit hosts a Fourth of July music festival in Luckenbach, Texas, to help pay for the program’s expenses.
In 2018, following her acquisition of related licenses, Seegers plans to expand Austin Harmony Project to include clinical mental health counseling and art therapy. Services will be available to the family members of individuals with developmental disabilities as well, Seegers said.
Although the program may have to endure some growing pains to accommodate Seegers’ plans, she said her dedication to serving developmentally disabled individuals is unwavering.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “It’s the unconditional love and admiration we have for each other. This population, they love unconditionally. There is no judgement; there is none of that. That’s the biggest thing.”
Austin Harmony Project
1806 W. Stassney Lane, Ste. 106, Austin
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sun.