May 19, 2021 – The individuals and staff members at Blossom Hill were thrilled to welcome back the musical duo Jack Mizenko and Mark Ronan into its four houses this month. As former college roommates, Jack and Mark now perform with Roots of American Music, a local organization that provides arts-integrated programs to diverse communities while promoting and preserving traditional American music. The two have been playing for individuals and groups with developmental disabilities since 2007.
“Everyone just seemed so happy to be back to doing music together,” said Jack in a recent phone interview. “You could just tell by the smiles on their faces that they were really glad that we were back doing music.”
Jack and Mark always come prepared with a setlist to play, including seasonal music based on holidays that are coming up. They perform everything from The Beatles to traditional church songs to patriotic favorites. Their main goal is to get everyone to participate. They take requests from each person in the room. “Even if the person is nonverbal, we try to get some sense of what they like and what they want us to play so everyone has an opportunity to participate,” Jack said.
For some of the individuals, they have known Mark and Jack since they started performing at Blossom Hill – when it was known as Haven House – in 2007. For others, it was their first time participating. “At Parma House where we were playing for the first time, one staff member mentioned that she was surprised that an individual who usually doesn’t participate in group activities was really into the music and was clapping along and singing,” Jack said. “That was nice to hear.”
Jack and Mark both have a background in special education. Jack taught special education for 30 years at Cleveland Metropolitan School District while Mark was a teacher at Positive Education Program (PEP), a school for children with severe mental health and behavioral challenges.
Jack and Mark worked closely with Krista Plowman, a beloved Blossom Hill staff member who passed away in 2018. Over the years, Jack and Mark have been asked to play at memorial services for individuals who passed away, including Krista’s memorial service.
They have been an integral part of Blossom Hill’s homes, engaging everyone with uplifting music and establishing lifelong friendships with the staff and the individuals.
“It wasn’t just a job,” said Jack. “It felt like we were part of the house, part of the family.”