It all started in 2009 when...

special education teacher Bret Lieberman was teaching at Golden Valley High School and a group of Bret's students asked if they could produce a music event for the school to bring neurodiverse students and typical students together for a social event. The innovative thinking of these students gave birth to the Yes I Can (YIC) Unity Through Music & Education Program. The program paired students with a range of disabilities with general education peer mentors. The goal of the program was to build healthy peer relationships and develop social, communication and transitional skills, while fostering an appreciation of music, art and diversity. Since the program’s inception, YIC has touched the lives of close to 2,000 students.

Throughout the school year, the YIC program invited professional painters and illustrators to hold socially inclusive art workshops. The artists worked hand-in-hand with the students to mentor them and to help them create both individual and collaborative art pieces. The goal was to visually and artistically promote socially-conscious messages aligned with the YIC motto of Unity through Music and Education and to proudly celebrate Autism Acceptance in their school and community, leading up to the month of April, which is Autism Acceptance Month.

Through the art workshops, the YIC students were taught transitional and life-skills necessary for future success: effective communication, goal setting, self-determination and the benefits of collaboration. The students accomplished this by learning and developing social and communication skills while working as a team. The students collaborated and brainstormed images, themes such as anti-bullying messages, quotes of acceptance, unity, diversity, and autism awareness/acceptance to be displayed for their peers and community.

Students were challenged to sometimes work together, learning to work with different types of personalities and levels of support needs, to use their imaginations and creativity; sometimes they were challenged to work alone, prompting students to work independently and to foster their individual talents. It took dedication, clear communication, and teamwork to effectively complete the projects. The workshops targeted a significant number of students with and without disabilities (75 YIC students and over 2,000 peers within the high school), providing the ultimate goal of teaching students to be successful by using creativity to effectively work both collaboratively and independently.

Over the years, Bret Lieberman identified an absence of local social vocational and employment programs focusing on industry-specific training helping youth with developmental disabilities to advance into Competitive Integrated Employment. Additionally, it was identified there was a deficit of programs designed to support students once they graduated from high school. Several YIC students reported they were successful with taking one or two classes in the post secondary education environment, but expressed it was extremely hard to find/maintain employment and continue to make social connections in school/work environments. 

Based on these identified needs, the YIC organization decided to shift the focus of its curriculum from solely a social inclusion program, into a comprehensive industry-specific community integration training and employment program; helping consumers with developmental disabilities to identify potential career paths, receive industry-specific training, and be presented with Competitive Integrated Employment opportunities. YIC’s mission is to help individuals with developmental disabilities obtain real-world experience within the music/entertainment industry that will aid in securing Competitive Integrated Employment, ultimately resulting in participants obtaining meaningful jobs and careers with livable wages, an improved quality of life, and increased independence.

YIC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Santa Clarita, CA. We provide community integration training and employment services to individuals with developmental disabilities to develop skills that will assist them in obtaining work within the music/entertainment industry at competitive wages.