FAR uses creative arts, recreation as therapy tools

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 22, 2023

 FAR clients have the opportunity to perform at Far Friends! in October.

FAR clients have the opportunity to perform at Far Friends! in October.

Photo provided by FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation


BIRMINGHAM — FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, provides resources and services for people with special needs in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Clients of FAR are given opportunities to grow through music, art, dance/movement and recreational therapy.

FAR was founded in 1951 by parents who wanted someplace for their adult children with special needs to be able to socialize. The same parents who started FAR advocated for the 1954 Michigan Special Education Act.

“Because of what they did, they were able to have children with disabilities be able to attend public schools,” FAR President Pamela A. Ayres said.

In 1964, the organization began occupying First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, 1669 W. Maple Road, on a rent-free basis. Through this agreement, FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation continues to be able to offer its services to people of all ages with physical, intellectual and/or emotional challenges.

In the 1970s, FAR shifted its focus to promoting art, recreation and life skills. Prior to this, their services were more directed towards being a community center and social outlet.

Once the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, FAR’s programming became more refined to complement public schools’ curricula.

FAR’s first fundraiser was held in 2000, which showcased clients’ talents as they performed alongside their therapists. This has since become an annual tradition.


What does FAR offer?
“We have such a large Creative Arts Therapy staff and recreational therapists that we can really work with any individual that has a diagnosis,” Ayres said.

Four disciplines are offered: music therapy, art therapy, dance movement therapy and recreational therapy.

“We use creative arts and recreational experiences as therapeutic tools,” Ayres said.

Ayres said music is the largest and most popular program.

“Everybody should have an opportunity to have arts in their life,” Ayres said.

FAR has a satellite location in Macomb County, at 55355 Mound Road in Shelby Township.

Services are available offsite as well. They currently partner with New Gateway, Angels’ Place, Vista Maria, Wellspring Lutheran Services, Orchards Children’s Services and The Friendship Circle.

They also have a presence in over 30 schools, including Birmingham Public Schools.

“We go in and work with small groups with their individuals with disabilities so they still have the chance to have art and music in school,” Ayres said.


Upcoming events
On Aug. 27, FAR will collaborate with Variety - the Children’s Charity of Detroit for the SHINE Fashion Show at Somerset Collection, 2800 W Big Beaver Road in Troy.

Ayres said the SHINE Fashion show is always a great experience for the people involved

Participants can get the experience of getting their hair and makeup done, and they also get to keep their outfits.

Tickets cost $35 to watch the fashion show and support both organizations involved.

FAR Friends! is FAR’s signature event and will take place Oct. 19. At this event, some of FAR’s clients will perform in front of a large audience.

“It is probably one of the most beautiful evenings anybody could see, because it is just so empowering to see individuals with disabilities up on stage in front of 700 people and performing. They are unbelievably talented,” Ayres said.


Leo’s story
Leo Palmer has been a client of FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation for about 15 years.

When he was 7 years old, he was recommended to try percussion therapy to help his fear of sudden loud noises. This is when he began working with FAR.

“What we quickly realized with percussion therapy was that if he could control the noises, then he did much better with those loud noises,” Mark Palmer, Leo’s father, said. “Through the therapies and through the development, he is able to now tolerate loud noises.”

Leo Palmer first performed for a FAR event when he was 8 years old. At the time, the audience was asked to give him a thumbs up at the end of his performance instead of applause due to his fear of sudden loud noises.

“Fast forward, Leo with FAR has had the ability to perform in front of several hundred if not a thousand people, and he loves applause now,” Palmer said.

He mainly does vocal performance and piano therapy. He previously was part of the percussion group, until about two years ago.

“In high school, having the opportunity to perform on stage in front of an audience almost gave him a leg up on some of his neurotypical peers,” Palmer said.

Audiences will have the opportunity to see Leo perform once again at FAR Friends! in October.

“I wish that FAR was much more well known, because the tangible results you see from its therapy are amazing,” Palmer said.

Mark Palmer was on the board of directors of FAR for eight years.

“The experiences that I have witnessed through my son and through others at FAR have been truly life-changing,” Palmer said.