A whiff of fresh paint hung in the air as Cristine Rhodes doled out rhythm sticks to the outstretched hands of children who had arrived with their parents to give her free class a shot.
"We're going to go on a musical adventure," Rhodes promised before gently prodding the children to move to the beat they were making.
Traeh Carrington, 8, of Hudson was itching to get at it. His younger brother, Asher, 7, took a tempered stance, warming as they moved from rhythm sticks to drums to the wonderment of interpretive dance.
A free class, no doubt, is a good way to get people through the doors at the new Inspire Studios, a three-part business nestled in a small strip center on Ridge Road. Music teachers Jason Rhodes, 40, and Cristine Rhodes, 39, of Spring Hill are the proprietors of the new venture, which includes music instruction for all ages, a recording studio/performance venue and a home for the charitable Inspire Foundation.
More importantly, though, the free class opens a window to a mode of expression — perhaps even serving as a therapeutic tool for children on the autism spectrum. For kids like Traeh, who can't sit still when there's a beat going on.
"His therapist thought music therapy might be good for him, and it looks like it is," said his mom, Patrice Carrington, as children waved colorful scarves while dancing to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.
Jason and Cristine Rhodes, who have been married for 15 years, know well the positive impact of music. Former high school band members, they met in their early 20s while employed at a Fletcher Music Center. For years, they homeschooled their three children while cobbling a living teaching percussion and piano in other people's homes and at music schools, including at a family business in Trinity called Ramblin' Rhodes.
Music paid the bills, but was also a path to reaching those in retreat. That's something the Rhodeses learned while working with Alzheimer's patients through the University of South Florida musical wellness program, and put into practice when their middle child, Jacob, suddenly stopped talking at age 2.
While music remains a constant, Jacob, now 13, has honed in on baseball and computers. He's a big talker, too, unabashedly drumming up customers for his neighborhood carwash and website-building ventures.
It's the stuff that fuels hope for a brighter future than Jacob's parents imagined — something they want to spread to others through the Inspire Foundation.
It takes money to do that.
The foundation recently got a boost, raising more than $9,000 through Kickstarter.com. Past fundraisers have included hosting drum circles at autism-related events. They have been recipients of raffles at Tampa Yankees games and of the Autism Awareness Festival sponsored by International Baccalaureate students at Springstead High in Spring Hill.
"The Rhodeses were superstars. They helped solicit many of the vendors and incredible prizes for the fest," health teacher and sponsor Eileen Pandolfo wrote in a recent email, noting that the event netted $1,000 in donations for the foundation.
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In turn, board members allocate money to others.
Canyon Goodin, 8, of New Port Richey, a passionate percussionist who can rattle off the names of the members of Led Zeppelin and other bands, was given a set of electric drums and a scholarship for lessons.
"He has a sensory integration disorder, and drumming soothes him — it's an outlet," said his mom, Kerri Goodin. "It's pretty amazing what they do. I've never had anything like that done for me in my life."
A violin was purchased for Kindle Kolb, 18, after she penned a heartfelt letter describing the lost opportunity to play when the orchestra program was shuttered at Powell Middle School in Spring Hill.
"It was kind of an avenue for helping her process her feelings and emotions, and with that being taken away from her it became really hard," said Kindle's mom, Sherry Kolb, noting that her daughter's diagnoses include Asperger syndrome and auditory processing disorder.
The reach has extended beyond music.
Art supplies were purchased for Brea Gunther, 18, a talented artist from Dunedin who wants to study graphic arts, but wasn't able to take art electives in her high school program. She has been busy creating drawings as the featured artist in a forthcoming exhibit at Inspire Studios.
"Autistic kids feed on art and music," said her mom, Joan Gunther. "They're creative, and they need that outlet to get through life because they can't verbalize a lot. It's her passion; it's what she wants to do, and she has a knack for it."
Funds were also donated to Camp Coast, a YMCA summer camp for children with autism, and the Inspire Foundation is also open to funding scholarships to local dance studios and art centers that serve youngsters with disabilities, Cristine Rhodes said.
On the second Saturday of each month, Inspire Studios offers a free class so children with special needs can give music a try in a welcoming environment with teachers who are well versed in dealing with various nuances.
"It's one of my favorite classes because it allows children to express themselves," Cristine Rhodes said. "Even if they come in and they are glued to their mom's leg, pretty soon they're up and moving around.
"All it takes is one class."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.