- Associated Press - Saturday, October 14, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A woman who spent much of her childhood bouncing from one foster home to another is now helping foster and adopted children adjust through musical experiences.

Melanie Barrier is founder of Music That Reclaims, which takes children across the country to concerts and musical theater, even providing backstage tours and meetings with the stars.

The 55-year-old St. Louis woman went into Florida’s foster care system as a newborn and lived in 20 foster homes before she was adopted at age 10. Barrier told St. Louis Public Radio that listening to music was her only form of stability.

Now, she watches as the eyes of young people light up with their up-close look at musicians.

“You’re exposed to these people who are famous and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a life out there after foster care,’” Barrier said.

Life in foster care was hard, Barrier said. At age 7, a foster family she had lived with for a year gave up on her and put her on a plane back to Florida, alone, in the middle of the night.

“It would be very similar to the feeling of drowning,” she recalled. “Just complete chaos and confusion.”

What saved her, Barrier said, was the music of the Carpenters and other popular performers of the day, music emanating from the transistor radio she took from one place to the next.

“Your parents kept changing, your siblings kept changing, your pets, your churches, your schools, everything changed every couple of months,” Barrier said. “But I had this little red radio and that little red radio delivered the music. And that became my constant companion.”

When Barrier was 9, an anonymous donor took her and other children from a group home to hear the band. They were able to go backstage and meet the band, an experience she’ll never forget.

Barrier now offers the same experience to foster children and those who have been adopted after living tumultuous environments. Her year-old organization has taken dozens of St. Louis children and their families to musicals at the Fox Theatre and The Muny outdoor theater.

Through the organization, Nancy Birch of O’Fallon, Missouri, brought her 12-year-old foster son to The Muny’s “The Little Mermaid,” a year after the child’s mother died.

“He had this shine in his eye, which he usually does not have,” Birch said. “He had never been to anything like that and he thoroughly enjoyed it. He couldn’t get that smile off his face.”

Barrier has a special connection with Loreena McKennitt and has taken dozens of children around the country to hear the Celtic singer, including 12-year-old Lili Cooley of St. Louis County. Lili was often left alone as a toddler while her birth mother, who was addicted to drugs, went out for hours.

The experience left Lili with anger issues, according to her adoptive mother, Season Cooley.

But Lili said she felt important when she met McKennitt after a concert. The singer simply encouraged her to be herself.

“Some people, they try to get you to talk a lot but she was just like, ‘If you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to,” Lili said. “You know, be shy if you want.”

McKennitt said she’s aware these children may have feelings of low self-esteem.

“I try to highlight the point that sometimes avenues of hope and possibility occur when you least expect them,” McKennitt said.

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Information from: KWMU-FM, https://www.kwmu.org

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