SOUTHINGTON — Giving foster children a new voice through songwriting and children on the autism spectrum speech through song has made Jona Jeffcoat a Pied Piper for those who struggle to communicate.
The board certified music therapist founded Infinity Music Therapy Services in 2010 to help children and adults find new ways to communicate through rhythm, and music. The center’s headquarters on Queen Street, which has four treatment rooms, resembles a music school, but the focus is on mental health and overcoming developmental disabilities.
Jeffcoat is a single mom living in Meriden, whose son Zachary was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. She has several certified clinicians and in addition to working with children, the center provides treatment for dementia patients and labor and delivery pain management.
She recently received a $10,000 grant to customize a van large enough to replicate a treatment room. It was made available through the Women’s Business Development Council Equity Match Grant Program. Awards of $2,500 to $10,000 are given to recipients who can present a short and long-term business plan, and clearly define how the funding will improve or expand their business.
“We travel throughout the state,” Jeffcoat said. “There are limitations. Given that we only have one clinical location in Southington, not everyone can get to. This mobile health clinic will operate as a satellite clinic.”
Jeffcoat was among 98 businesses helped through the program. Executive Director Fran Pastore announced the Women’s Business Development Council would accept applications for its fourth round until Feb. 13. With the help of Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, they brought on banks, investors, and donors. The state Department of Economic and Community Development matched funds dollar for dollar and JP Morgan Chase contributed $300,000.
“This gives them the latitude and space to pivot their business and tell us how they can use their money to do something they weren’t able to do before,” Pastore said during a media briefing Tuesday.
Of the 98 businesses helped through the program, 71 percent have increased revenue, 56 percent increased profits and 44 percent increased jobs, she said. The council works with businesses before and after the application process and encourages those initially denied to reapply.
Jeffcoat was one of the business owners who reapplied. In her successful application, she highlighted the mobile clinic proposal. Recipients must be prepared to match at least 25 percent of the total award. Jeffcoat invested more.
She received two Paycheck Protection Program loans that were later forgiven. She is also aggressive about applying for additional funding opportunities. It kept her afloat after losing 95 percent of her business during the pandemic. With the help of speaking engagements and contracts with state providers such as the Department of Social Services, Birth to Three, school districts, and the Department of Children and Families, she was able to keep her doors open and rebuild.
The pandemic also created a crisis for her clients, Jeffcoat said. As a result of school closings and quarantines, many neurologically disabled children slid backwards and for many clients, online services aren’t an option. With treatment waitlists formidable, she hopes to get the van on the road by early April.
Jeffcoat is one of about 100 certified music therapists in the state. Her long-term goal is to open another center in greater New London.
Her appreciation for music developed when, as a child, she spent much of her time in the nursing home where her mother worked. She would visit her “adopted grandparents” during bingo and other recreational activities. In fourth grade, she learned to play the flute and brought it to the nursing home. She found that many of the patients who didn’t speak were singing.
“I determined I would help people with music from then on,” she stated on her website.
During high school Jeffcoat worked on a farm for people with mental illness and at a camp with children in foster care. She majored in music therapy and mental health at Charleston Southern University. Her son Zachary’s first words came from singing, and through music he has learned to cope and improve self-awareness. Zachary, now 10, is a frequent visitor at the center.
“The options for therapeutic programming using music are endless,” Jeffcoat said. “I’ve seen a child with Down Syndrome say their first word through song. We see the entire life span from several days old to 103. Music therapy is not just making music, it addresses a true clinical need and we are using the music as a therapeutic tool. Everything we are doing has a purpose.”