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M'n'M Singers Perform at the Rodbell Auditorium

By Blondell Peterson
November 2005

left to right, Maria Owens, Dona McNeill, Haley McNeill-Cox (Dona's daughter), and Margaret Lucas
Left to right: Maria Owens, Dona McNeill, Haley McNeill-Cox (Dona's daughter), and Margaret Lucas sing and sign with Kelly McNamara as she leads the song, "This Little Light of Mine." (Photo by Steve McCaw, Image Associates)

The room was already charged with positive energy after Mark Ezell's presentation, "Bringing Your Wheelchair to Mt. Everest." at the Disability Awareness Month event Oct. 11 at the Rodbell auditorium.

Then Dona McNeil, an NIEHS administrative officer, introduced the "world famous" M 'n' M singers. This group of adults with developmental disabilities performs regularly at churches, civic groups and community events in the triangle area.

McNeil announced that "Administrative Officer" is just her day job. Her real passion is singing, and she claims the M 'n' Ms are the only group that will allow her to sing with them. McNeill and her daughter Haley have been singing with the group for ten years. "The M 'n' Ms have taught me a lot of important things," McNeill said. "Some of the M'n'M wisdoms as I call them are: one, It's important to be proud and grateful for all your gifts, and that everybody have a lot of gifts. Two, don't waste your time judging yourself or others as wanting. Three, show up and do your best because that's the most important thing."

When the "M'n'Ms," as they are called, sang songs like "I Am an M 'n' M Singer," "I've Got Peace Like a River," and "Amazing Grace," the audience sang along. Tommy Anorado performed "Amazing Grace" as a solo, in Tony Bennett style.

The group ensures that everyone can enjoy their music by including sign language interpretation. "We sign many of the words to our songs as we sing them," said Carol Roesch, the director and music therapist. "That's to make sure that everyone is able to participate in as many ways as they can, and so that our audience members are able to understand in as many ways as they can."

Roesch then introduced Porter Sing, noting that he has a very gentle voice so audience members needed to listen carefully to hear the lyrics. "He signs very beautifully," she said. Sing signed the lyrics to the song,"In Moments Like These" while Anorado held the mike for him.

The M 'n' Ms got the audience to clap along when they sang "This Land Is Your Land," "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and "This Little Light of Mine,"--a hearty solo by Kelly McNamara.

Roesch told the audience that the M'n'Ms always end rehearsals and programs with the song, "We Shall Overcome. Amy Moore explained why.

"This is a beautiful song for us to sing because there are a lot of people in this world who have over come a lot, and a lot of stuff that needs to be overcome will also be overcome in our lives," Moore said. "Yall can stand up and join us."

The audience did just that-all around the Rodbell auditorium with hands uplifted.

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