People Helping People
Karen Nisenson is Founder and Clinical Director of Arts for Healing. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Music degree in Piano Performance from the Juilliard School, Bachelor of Science from Hunter College, a Master of Arts degree in Music Therapy from NYU, where she has been an adjunct professor and affiliated with the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy since 1978. Karen developed the integrated music and art therapy methodology (IMAT) and the Adaptive Music Teaching Curriculum. She has also created early childhood academic programs specifically designed for children on the Autism Spectrum. Karen is a contributor to Special Parent Magazine and The Motor Story Online News Magazine. Karen consults to schools in Fairfield County, CT, and frequently presents talks and workshops to parents and professionals about the impact and importance of the arts in education.Billy Ayres
Billy Ayres specializes in improvisational musical theater with special needs children and adults. He has extensive experience in his approach that integrates many methods and forms of expression in theater arts: writing original plays and songs, improvisational acting and performances, movement, comedy, and mime. He is an artist-in-residence who has created, directed and performed more than fifty original musicals with special needs children and adults, at the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts, The Greenwich Youth Stage, Northern Westchester Boces, Norwest, and for Ability Beyond Disability, a rehabilitation facility where his work with traumatic brain injury victims received high praise by the New York Times. He conducts his workshops in a broad array of settings, from the theater, to the classroom, to community homeless shelters. His has received high acclaim in the Journal News for his work at the Westchester Arts Council, and has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Billy is a published songwriter who has sung many national commercials for T.V. and radio, performing with Ben Vereen and Michael Bolton. He is developing a series of children’s books for special needs children and adults entitled “The Tiger and the Butterfly,” and has published “How to Conduct a Residency” for the Westchester Arts Council. He is a trained percussionist and a self-taught pianist and guitarist. He has created numerous cartoon voices for Fox 5’s children’s television show “Vanpires” both nationally and internationally. He is currently a staff writer for The Songs of Love foundation, donating original songs for children with terminal illness. He has been the host and emcee of ”Very Special Arts,” a showcase of special needs talent held at the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts.
Billy Ayres holds Masters in Special Education and a B.S. in psychology, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Aftra.
Merrill Collins, M.A., B.A., received her master's degree in Music Therapy from New York University. She obtained her Advanced Level ! Training Certificate from NYU Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy in June 2014.
Merrill is from Darien, CT and music has always been her passion. She has performed various operatic, liturgical and choral works as a soprano with the Metropolitan Singers/The Greek Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, the Greenwich Chorale society, the Fairfield County Chorale, and St. Luke's Parish in Connecticut. She is a songwriter of the blues and jazz genre, and recorded and performed in Los Angeles as a soloist and with various bands. She plays piano and guitar.
Music is a powerful gift to give to people of all ages. Merrill feels belssed to be a music therapist working with extraordinary clients who inspire and teach her something new every day.
Mary Ford is a professional artist and instructor with over 20 years experience working with children and seniors with diverse physical and emotional abilities. She has been a very welcome staff member at Arts For Healing since 2011. Her sensitivity to individuals with special needs combined with her creative spirit enables her to provide students with therapeutic art experiences that are both successful and fun. Recently, her student’s work was chosen to represent Connecticut in an exhibit of work by special artists at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
She believes that the benefits of art making, including improved cognitive and motor skills, communication methods and self-awareness, are of particular importance to those with special needs. She also believes that creating art should be accessible to all and can often be found adapting conventional art tools and mediums to suit the needs of her students.
Mary majored in Children’s Literature and Illustration at New England College and completed her Adobe Certification at the University of Connecticut in 2013. In addition to teaching, Mary works as a freelance illustrator and writer. Her most recent published work is a book of cartoons that combines two of her favorite things: pets and puns.
Jennifer Ellyson, M.A., R-DMT, received her master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago. Her clinical work combines her strengths and passions from dance and movement, child development and psychology. Jennifer is also receiving post-graduate training in infant and child dance/movement psychotherapy in Dr. Suzi Tortora’s “Ways of Seeing” program. In addition to her work as therapist, Jennifer is an experienced dance and movement educator, teaching children and adults of all ages. She offers a holistic, mind-body approach to her engage her students fully. To feed her creative soul, Jennifer dances and choreographs actively at home and in the dance studio.
Barbara is a field work student with Arts for Healing and is currently working for her M.A. at NYU in Music Therapy. She has an M.M. from the Manhattan School of Music in music theory, B.Mus. in orchestral conducting from the Curtis Institute of Music and a B.A. in music and philosophy from Middlebury College. As a conductor, Barbara has always tried to reach out to as many types of audiences as possible and feels that music therapy is a natural extension of that kind of music making.
In addition to her work at Arts for Healing, Barbara is the music director of the Greenwich Village Orchestra in Manhattan. She and her husband Alex Lerman live in Chappaqua, NY with their son Ben, who is 7.
Carol is the face of AFH. She is the first person people talk to when they inquire about our services and the first face they see when they come for sessions. In between, she keeps AFH running.