Mayday Club Youth Choir: A place to belong for kids with autism and other challenges

Abbotsford group formed in September and welcomes kids, youth and young adults

Simon practises his dance moves as the Mayday Club Youth Choir rehearses on a recent Sunday evening at Peace Lutheran Church.




Daniel Crabb often feels like he doesn’t fit in at school.

The 12-year-old has obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome, characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations that can result in him squealing out loud at inopportune moments.

“People think I’m a weirdo,” he says.

But Daniel has found a place where there is no judgment or ridicule, where others understand his challenges and accept him wholeheartedly.

It’s called the Mayday Club Youth Choir.

The group began this September in Abbotsford, and is directed by founder Nicole Provost, a 19-year-old graduate of W. J. Mouat Secondary who is studying physics at the University of B.C.

Provost sang in a youth choir when she was younger, and noticed the struggles of one particular girl, who had attention deficit disorder. The girl had difficulty in the traditional choir setting, which requires members to stand still while they sing.

“I saw her struggling and getting held back, and I thought that wasn’t fair,” Provost said.

She and her older sister Jenna, who also sang in the choir, envisioned something more upbeat and energetic, and they held on to that idea for a few years.

By September 2015, Provost was ready to proceed. She and Jenna talked about developing their own choir, one that would accept kids who had different challenges – such as autism, Down syndrome, depression and anxiety – and allow their energy and enthusiasm to shine.

They chose the name “Mayday” – as in the distress signal – because they felt they were putting out a call for help.

Brochures and flyers were distributed and a website was started to let people know that the choir was seeking members.

Provost (in photo at left) recalls the first time someone called to inquire about the group. She “freaked out” so much with excitement that she believes she scared off the caller, but others were quick to sign up.

Germaine Lamour of Abbotsford was one of the moms who came across a flyer. Her son, Daniel, 14, has autism and loves to sing and dance.

There were no other groups like it, and she was excited that Daniel could “be together and sing and dance with other children like him – no judging. Everybody can just be themselves…”

Angela Betts heard about the group through the Fraser Valley Autism Society. She also liked the idea that her son Charlie, 13, who has autism and loves rapping and beat-boxing, could do what he likes and where the expectations are “you do your best.”

Daniel Crabb’s mom, Lisa, heard about the Mayday Club from Angela. The families lived on the same street for about eight years, and the two boys are good friends.

Now Daniel, who also plays drums in the choir, is “surrounded by people who don’t judge me.

“I’m with my people … It makes me look forward to Sundays.”

The Mayday Club Youth Choir rehearses every Sunday night in the basement of Peace Lutheran Church.

As the members wait for the start of the rehearsal, they toss and chase rubber chickens around the room.

But when the session begins, they all quickly sit on the coloured circular mats that mark their names, and Nicole directs them to introduce themselves and name their favourite pizza.

Some of the kids sport Mayday T-shirts with names or phrases on the back, such as Mr. Man, Rap God, Fabulous, Tolerance and Compassion – words that they chose to describe themselves.

The evening progresses with a dance warm-up, a boisterous game called Shark Attack, and the rehearsal of two tunes – Pompeii and Kids – that are part of their season’s repertoire.

Dance movements are incorporated into a couple of the run-throughs – choreographed by Nicole and dance teacher Tia Oostenbrug – and four of the boys provide accompaniment on the drums, as taught by one of the group dads, Dan Renaud.

The evening concludes with a group huddle and a “We are fabulous!” cheer.

The club has progressed beyond Nicole’s expectations.

“The kids just instantly started interacting with each other in a way that I never thought they would … It’s just really nice to see kids with all these different challenges getting together and being able to feel like they belong.”

Nicole said her goal for the members of the Mayday Club Youth Choir is that they are able to experience what it’s like to be accepted and be part of a team.

“What I hope to really accomplish in the lives of each kid is for them to know that they belong and that everything that they may be going through in high school isn’t part of life … For when they do leave school, they need to be prepared to be themselves because that’s how they’re going to be able to succeed in life.

“I want them to know that they’re capable of belonging and that they’re capable of performing and having people clap for them, and just having their parents proud of them, and being proud of themselves.”

‘Sensory-friendly’ dance on Dec. 22

The Mayday Club Youth Choir currently has 22 singers ages five to 27.

Most have autism, but some also have anxiety, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome and other conditions.

The group has many volunteers lending their supporting, including high school students who look after the younger members and make sure everyone is included in the activities.

St. John Ambulance therapy dogs also come out to some of the practices.

The group rehearses every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Peace Lutheran Church, and will appear at venues and events throughout the year. They also plan to record a CD early next year.

Their public appearances so far include singing the national anthem at the Autism Speaks Canada Walk in Richmond in October and performing during the downtown Christmas tree lighting in Abbotsford on Nov. 25.

The group is also working on a production, called Heroes, which incorporates song, dance and dialogue.

The Mayday Club relies on donations to operate, and funds raised through performances and merchandise go to Music Heals, a foundation that brings music therapy to places such as BC Children’s Hospital.

The group also hosts various activities throughout the year. The next one, called Night to Remember, takes place Dec. 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Chief Dan George Middle School and is described as a sensory-friendly winter formal dance for ages five to 30. Tickets are $20.

Visit maydayclubyouthchoir.com for more information. New choir members are being accepted until February.

(Photos below by Vikki Hopes. Top photo (from left): Daniel Crabb, Charlie Betts and Scott Renaud practise the drums under the direction of Scott’s dad Dan. Bottom photo: Naomi Siu enjoys her first night with the Mayday Club Youth Choir as dad Steven encourages her to sway with the music.)