NORWOOD, Ohio -- Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh was at home caring for her newborn son Sunday night when she got a call from the landlord of her rented studio space in Norwood. The vans owned by Nuseibeh’s nonprofit organization, Melodic Connections, were underwater, the landlord said.
Nuseibeh’s first thought was that the vans used to transport students to and from music therapy programs might be parked in about a foot of water. Photos from the landlord quickly dispelled this theory, showing the vans in four feet of water.
"One of the vans was actually floating in the parking lot," Nuseibeh said.
The next day -- less than two weeks into her maternity leave -- the Melodic Connections founder and executive director went with her newborn, toddler and husband to the music studio. The previous night’s flash flood, they found, had taken its toll inside the building as well.
A refrigerator was knocked over. A piano was lying on its back. And, nearly all of the studio’s drums, keyboards, guitars and music equipment were ruined.
Nuseibeh, a special educator and music therapist, founded Melodic Connections in 2008 to provide music therapy for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Working in a classroom setting, she found that her students grew most when she used music as a teaching tool. However, many of her students’ families couldn’t afford private music therapy, so she created Melodic Connections.
"I started seeking ways to help as many people as possible learn through music while taking the financial piece out of the equation," Nuseibeh said.
The organization provides music therapy programs at low or no cost for individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and vision impairment, among others. In 2015, the organization served 600 individuals through its school and adult day programs, afternoon classes and summer camps.
Because the organization’s music in the schools programs are grant-funded and have their own instruments at the partner schools, those classes have continued despite the flood damage. Afternoon classes and adult day programming have been on hiatus, as staff members and volunteers cleared the studio of debris and any salvageable equipment.
Staff members were able to save some hand drums, an iPad, some shelving units and miscellaneous items that were high enough to be out of the floodwater’s reach.
While the total value of the musical instruments and equipment destroyed is in the 10s of thousands dollar-wise, some of the most difficult things to let go of are those that can’t be replaced. Charts and posters with the organization’s adapted music instruction methods were destroyed.
"It’s like eight years’ worth of creative material that’s gone," Nuseibeh said.
Letting go of teaching materials is only one of the struggles she’s faced in the past few days. She’s also been faced with the challenge of caring for a newborn and supporting staff members while being restricted from lifting anything herself.
"I wanted to be helping, and I can’t because I had a C-section two weeks ago," Nuseibeh said. “So I literally can’t lift anything. It’s really hard because I put so much blood, sweat and tears into it, to just not be able to move things and to be able to do the physical labor with them.
"It’s just a really emotional time," she added.
Other staff members have shared her sense of loss. Like Nuseibeh, music therapist and program director Christina McCracken was forewarned but didn’t fully know what to expect when she returned to the studio.
"I had no idea what to expect when I walked in, except expect the worst," she said.
Melodic Connections clients -- especially those who attend classes at the studio -- have been impacted, too.
"She was devastated when we found out,” said Ava Strole of her daughter, Emily.
Emily, who is 28, has been attending classes for four years. In that time, she’s gained self-confidence while learning to sing and play keyboard, guitar and drums.
"On the days that she’s supposed to go, she just feels at such a loss," Ava Strole said.
While everyone has had their "moments of grieving and being upset," staff members are focusing on moving forward and resuming classes, McCracken said.
"We haven’t had too much time to dwell on the destruction and the devastation," she said.
Nuseibeh has set up a GoFundMe, which already has raised more than $35,000 of her $100,000 goal.
She also is working to secure some donated spaces to accommodate the organization’s programs temporarily, while she searches for a new, long-term location. She’s hopeful classes will be able to resume as early as next week.
"We will continue on," McCracken said. "Our classes will go on as planned, just in a different place."