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Karina: She’s got the music in her

Karina Scali was born to make music. She came to ErinoakKids as a client with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic condition that brings with it a number of challenges. Disability may be the reality for Karina in the care she receives, but her abilities are what matter for her ambitious plans. At 18 years old, her musical ability has already carried her to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and at a major awards night in Las Vegas, and she has only just begun to explore her talents.

Karina also received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in October 2012, for voluntary service to Canada. The Diamond Jubilee Medal honours significant contributions by Canadians whose achievements have benefited their fellow citizens, community and Canada.

Karina Scali, an up and coming music star and her parents Karina's father, Frank Scali, is a senior executive at a large organization and her mother, Monica Schmidt, is a former marketing director who now devotes her time to supporting Karina's ambitions. Monica recalls how their family's lives changed when Karina was diagnosed with Williams syndrome when she was two years old in Montreal. In 1996, they moved to Oakville, Ontario where Karina became a client of ErinoakKids.

"We knew we would need physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Monica says. "But there was also a lot more, and ErinoakKids was more integrated. There was the occupational therapist, physiotherapist, social worker, psycho-educational consultant, and there were a lot more services – all of them in one place. Karina embraced horseback riding, drama and other services that were available.

With Karina's treatment in hand, her personal development continued to emphasize the most important thing in her life – music. "I first learned guitar when my cousin gave me his electric guitar around 2006, Karina remembers. So she learned first on electric and later on acoustic – the reverse of what most guitarists do. But now she has both, and while the acoustic instrument occupies a place of honour on its stand in the family room in their home, ready when she wants to take it up and entertain, there is also the snazzy black and white Squier Stratocaster.

Above – a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n roll:  At left, acoustic Karina.  At right, electric Karina.

When Karina had just been diagnosed with Williams syndrome, Monica found out all she could about the condition, and became Quebec Director of the Canadian Association for Williams Syndrome. But beyond therapy, both parents always knew the best thing for their daughter was developing her interest in music. The family encouraged Karina by sending her to music camps in the United States, and discovered the Academy of Country Music's Lifting Lives Music Camp – a week-long residential camp specifically designed for teens with Williams syndrome and similar diagnoses.

It so happened that the Academy of Country Music (ACM) wanted to focus public attention on the camp and the young people who attended it. At the camp each year, songwriters work with campers to create a song. The song Karina's group created, Music from the Heart, so impressed the ACM that the campers were invited to perform it at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 2010. "There were two standing ovations, Monica says. "Everybody was so excited. It was so wild for her to have that experience.

But things were about to get wilder.
Above: Karina meets Wynonna Judd at the Grand Ole Opry, where they know how to make y’all feel welcome.

As a result of that performance, the ACM contacted Monica with a request that left her stunned. When Karina got home from school that day she too was bowled over to hear the news. The academy wanted to know if Karina and her song co-writers would perform Music from the Heart at the Academy's 46th annual Country Music Awards to be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in the spring of 2011.

The arena, part of the famous MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, is designed to look like Madison Square Garden, holds almost 17,000 people, and the odds were excellent that it would be busting at the seams that night. Was Karina nervous to be suddenly thrust in front of such a large audience at such a famous venue? "Nope. I like an audience.

Indeed, by then it was clear that Karina is not only unaffected by nervousness, but has enough of a show-biz streak in her to let a big audience get her fired up. The kid who once felt isolated and left out at school in her pre-ErinoakKids days had found herself, with help from ErinoakKids and lots of family encouragement behind her. That cheerful and gregarious nature of Karina's can be characteristic of young people with Williams syndrome, but it is also a character trait that fits in well with her musical ambitions.

In 2011, Karina graduated from the ErinoakKids Independent Living Program, and plans to go onto study early childhood education to pursue a career in that field. Karina also engages in social activism and volunteers at a long-term care facility where she goes with "HappiDogs from a local pet care business to bring pet therapy to the resident seniors.

Yet music is never far away when Karina's around. She wants to educate, uplift and, above all, help everyone and everything she can. Karina also plans to work on a CD, featuring her own songs, and use her talents to help ErinoakKids, which helped set her on the path to be all she can be.

She can't help it. She's got the music in her.

Above at left: Karina with Darius Rucker on stage and in the limelight where she loves to be.  At right: At the music camp, Karina got a souvenir Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan of her brain to take home.  If you look real close, you can see the music in her.

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Did you know?

Did you know that much of a child’s cognitive, social and academic progress depends on communication, and that augmentative and alternative communication has been shown to enhance a child’s ability in all of these areas?

Read about Assistive Devices Resource Services at ErinoakKids

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  (905) 855.2690
  1 (877) 374.6625

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