People Helping People
Karen Nisenson, M.M., M.A., MT-BC
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.
Musical Theater Workshop Coordinator
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.
Gina Barber has lived in New Canaan for 27 years. She and her husband, Al, have five grown children and five grandchildren. Gina is a graduate of Suny Purchase with a BFA, summa cum laude.
She has taught for the last fourteen years at St. Catherine Academy in Fairfield. St. Catherine serves children, five to twenty-one with intellectual disabilities, multi-handicapped, neurological impairment and autism. Gina has also taught painting to the homeless in South Norwalk and women coming out of homelessness at the Bowery Mission in New York City.
Some of you may remember Gina for her work at South Avenue Cottage or her pottery skills at the summer enrichment camp at Saxe.
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.
Nancy is a graduate of the Creative Arts Therapy program at The New School in New York City and also has a BFA in Arts Management from C. W. Post. She is a trained vocalist, and plays acoustic guitar performing with singer/songwriter Lisa Jane Lipkin. Nancy also plays piano and composes her own music and recently recorded a CD with the rock band Ceiling Unlimited. After working in the record industry, Scorcia spent many years volunteering for community and school events, chairing several large galas and concerts while raising her five children. She began her relationship at Arts For Healing as an intern and continues to do both one-on-one and group outreach with preschool children and teens. Nancy enjoys seeing live music, walking her dog and spending time outside.
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.