Catbird Crossing performs Saturday as part of a free concert in support of World Autism Acceptance Day at van der Brew in Winthrop. The band — one of four to perform — includes Aaron Bowman, left, on guitar, Ellen Bowman on accordion and fiddler Bruce Coffin. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — Families and music lovers were treated to a free concert at van der Brew on Saturday, with donations benefiting the Autism Society in Maine.

The two-hour show featured folk music from Stone Quarry, Catbird Crossing, Hurry Down Sunshine, and Ed Desjardins.

Tena Hinds of the Autism Society of Maine greeted and took donations from guests as they entered. With a background in teaching special education, Hinds has spent years working with autistic children and felt inspired to join the Autism Society of Maine after retirement.

“I’m excited, and I’m hopeful,” she said. “We always appreciate anything we can get from donations and sponsors.”

Ellen Bowman, a musician who has years of experience working with autistic children, came up with the concert idea. Inspired to incorporate music as a way to help people with autism, she walked into the society’s office in late February to pitch the idea.

Cathy Dionne, ASM’s director of programs and administration, was immediately receptive.

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“She (Bowman) just stopped by the office,” said Dionne. “She has a long history of working with children with autism, and some of our past board members have worked with her. It seemed like a natural fit to have this come together and see what she could do.”

Catbird Crossing performs during a free concert Saturday at van der Brew in Winthrop. The concert, which featured four groups, raised donations in support of World Autism Acceptance Day. Catbird Crossing includes Bruce Coffin, left, on fiddle, Ellen Bowman on accordion and guitarist Aaron Bowman. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Dionne said van der Brew, long before the pandemic hit, had hosted a benefit show for the society and was open to once again helping out their cause.

Bowman, who plays accordion and sings with Catfish Crossing, opened the 2 p.m. performance by saying she hopes that this can become a regular event.

Bowman worked with a small group starting in late February to organize the concert.

“We had six weeks to work on this,” she said. “I’ve been slapping posters up all over the place. I called up the bands and asked if they would like to play for 30 minutes for a wonderful cause, and everybody was receptive.”

The event also lines up with World Autism Acceptance Day — recognized yearly on April 2 — which Dionne said is a time for people to reflect on the autistic children and adults in their communities and in their lives.

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“We all know what awareness means,” Dionne said, “but now we need to learn the acceptance part, and how can we do that? We’ll need to help them understand how to get jobs and help them to fit into their communities better, and we can all be a part of that, because the connection really is you. It’s connecting with neighbors or connecting with a business, because that’s how we integrate autistic adults and children.”

Dionne said the Autism Society of Maine has been serving the state for 45 years, and primarily provides education and resources. ASM works to help make community connections for autistic children and adults. Those new opportunities could range from introducing them to other services like summer camp opportunities, support groups or a family retreat weekend. The society also has information specialists to help autistic adults or their family members navigate the systems and services available in Maine.

Catbird Crossing performs Saturday during a free concert in support of World Autism Acceptance Day at van der Brew in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Donations from the benefit show will help the Autism Society continue providing these services and connections, Dionne said.

Bowman said she wants to continue using music as a way to help people in her community.

“I just think my passion is music, reaching where words can’t,” she said. “I think music is a real key, no pun intended, for developing kids. I’ve used it in hospice all my life. I’ve worked with kids in trouble and also worked globally in other countries. It’s just so universal, and it seems so fitting that we have four bands and an afternoon of music to support the Autism Society of Maine and beyond.”


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