ARLINGTON, Va. — An Arlington man is going above and beyond to give students with disabilities a memorable graduation experience.
Dr. Dennis Edelbrock has served as a trumpet professor at George Mason University’s Dewberry Family School of Music for three decades.
Yet, while teaching hundreds, if not thousands of students over the years, Edelbrock has also made time to care for his daughter, Emma.
The 23-year-old, who has Down syndrome, will graduate from Arlington Public Schools’ Program for Employment Preparedness [PEP] in June.
“They work on internships, getting the students out of the building so they can start to get into the real world,” Edelbrock said.
But Emma’s impending graduation recently got Edelbrock thinking – how could she, and other students with disabilities, celebrate that milestone like their peers who may get a new car or go on “Beach Week” with friends.
"That doesn't really happen for special needs kids,” he said. “Not on the same level."
So, Edelbrock created a GoFundMe page to help send Emma, 13 other students with disabilities, and nine PEP staff members to Disney World.
"We have a trained staff so the parents can enjoy it,” he said.
Edelbrock said when parents of children with special needs go on vacations, they typically have a lot of work. In some cases, they must figure out ways to help their kids deal with loud sounds or large crowds all the while making sure they don’t leave their sight.
That’s why Edelbrock said it’s important to make sure staff are funded on the trip too.
"It's a big job,” he said. “Anytime you have a special needs child, the issues multiply."
So far, Edelbrock’s effort has raised more than $23,000 in just two weeks. The goal of his GoFundMe campaign is to hit $30,000.
Edelbrock said he never thought the campaign would raise so much money as quickly as it did. But he credits PEP staff and the Arlington County Police Department with stirring up interest in the effort.
"[PEP staff] sent it out to the entire police department,” he said. “And it just goes on and on from there.”
The Arlington County Police Department said it was happy to help as its member, Sgt. Smithghall, maintained a close relationship with students at PEP since his time as a school resource officer.
“As a supervisor on patrol, he and members of his squad continue to visit the program to engage the students and build important police-community relationships." said Arlington County Police Department spokesperson Ashley Savage. "Many of our officers and civilian staff personally donated funds to help the students reach their goal of visiting Disney World, highlighting their commitment to being active and engaged members of the Arlington community both on and off duty.”
Meanwhile, Edelbrock’s colleagues at George Mason were not surprised by his fundraising effort.
GMU’s music school director Dr. Linda Apple Monson called Edelbrock an “awesome person.” She added the effort of her colleague, who she’s worked alongside for 23 years, is like the manifestation of what the art of making music is.
"Music elevates, music lifts, music heals,” she said.
Edelbrock said he was thankful for all the support he’s received in the community so far.
"It's about people seeing something that's larger than themselves, at the end of the day, and that's what elevates all of us."