Ron Esser, a musician from Frazer Township, Pennsylvania, and John Vento, a musician from Pittsburgh, have received the 2020 Communitas Award for recognizing music’s positive effects on people living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In 2016, Esser and Vento formed Band Together Pittsburgh, a nonprofit offering programming, musical experiences, and vocational opportunities for people with autism. The programs offered by the organization include drum circles, an autism open mic night, and the Pittsburgh Blues and Roots festival.
“These kids get a chance to go play in front of thousands of people,” Esser said. “We have a guy who runs our DJ program who’s on the spectrum. I can’t tell you how amazing it is when a woman comes up to you at Walmart, crying, who you don’t even know, and wants to thank you for what you did for her son.”
According to a report by Triblive.com, Esser and Vento have used Band Together Pittsburgh to organize special events and dances. Esser has also been named the Western PA Fundraising Professionals Volunteer Philanthropist of the Year and is a board member of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.
“Certainly, our work with Band Together Pittsburgh is something that comes from the heart,” Esser said. “There’s a ton of things these folks can do. And music brings it out in them.”