Posted in Out and About in Orlando, Overcoming Adversity

Make M Smile, The Happiest Event in Orlando (Part 3)


Upon walking the nearly mile long loop around Lake Eola, I came across the Walt Disney Ampitheater, a performance space used for many events year round. The stage was packed with a variety of shows, performances by local venues like Medieval Times, and a variety of special needs performing art groups and cheerleading squads.

But one stood out to me that I just had to take a stop and listen.

May I present to you, Joyful Voices


And joyful they were, as a group of VIP teens and adults belted out many songs, but the one that stuck out to me was their cover of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

After the performance, I spoke to music therapist Tamela Rios Ponder of Joyful Music Therapy about her amazing group.

“We started the group about three and a half years ago, the highlight of our year is performing at Make M Smile.” Tamela explained while backstage.

“We have over 500 clients from the Central Florida area and serve the community in after school programs, long term care facilities, small groups and individual sessions. Our clients in the group range in ages from 13 up to 30, and all of them have different abilities. We never focus on their disabilities, we focus on their abilities and how the power and joy of music can help their abilities grow. We have some who can barely speak a word, but when given a microphone can sing clearly and beautifully.”

When asked about their song choices, Tamela explained that it is the group that chooses the music in the beginning of each semester or session, but under one condition.

“They can request to perform a song, and when they do, we discuss it as a group, what do the lyrics mean, and what power do they have. Is it a positive song with a good message behind it, or is it a bad song that has a nice beat but talks about going to the club or something else inappropriate? We want our performers and the community to feel empowered, and songs like Fight Song are a good example of how powerful music can be. They rocked it today!”

And rocked it, they did.


Keep in mind, these are just some of the many amazing stories of triumph and joy shared and embraced throughout the lake. And to experience it was something I will never forget.

Want to learn more about this amazing event? Check out the Nathaniel’s Hope website here.

Special thanks to the Kuck family and the media team for letting me have the opportunity to document this great event.


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