QUINCY -- The District's annual "Caroling in the Park" event Thursday in Washington Park started off with a bell choir ringing a familiar holiday tune, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
The musical backdrop was provided by Unique Harmony, a performance group composed of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Unique Harmony was formed in March by Transitions of Western Illinois, a mental health and rehabilitation services provider that wanted to gives its clients a new opportunity to express themselves artistically through music.
Organizers invited adults served by Transitions to get involved in a new performance group, and about 30 people immediately stepped forward.
The result is Unique Harmony, which performs around the community as a vocal choir or a handbell choir, depending on the situation. The group adjusts its musical selections to meet the holiday or occasion.
"Sometimes they even do acting, and sometimes they do speech presentations," said Lacey Eaton, director of Developmental Disabilities Services for Transitions. "We also have individuals learning sign language to help do some sign language performances."
Eaton was one of several Transitions officials who played a role in forming Unique Harmony. She said the Crossing's music arts program partnered with Transitions to develop the choral and handbell choirs.
Chloe Lovelace from the Crossing leads the handbell choir, which performed three songs Thursday in Washington Park.
"She works with them," Eaton said, noting how the handbell choir members don't have to know how to read music to play songs.
"She will hold up color-coordinated cards, and the individuals will ring colored bells that match the card," Eaton said.
Unique Harmony has given a number of performances in recent months, starting with a Memorial Day event at the Illinois Veterans Home. The group later performed during National Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Mo., in July.
Unique Harmony also performs for churches, service clubs and nursing homes. The group is scheduled to perform at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Quincy Senior and Family Resource Center and at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Quincy Mall.
"In December they have quite a few performances that they're doing for Christmas," Eaton said.
Groups interested in scheduling a complimentary performance can call Kelly Moore of Transitions at 224-2194.
Eaton says the opportunity to perform music is beneficial for the adults who participate in Unique Harmony.
"Our individuals love the opportunity to show off their talents and to be a part of the community," she said. "Most of all, they get to see they're contributing, and they feel like they're learning because they practice a lot of skills while they're in the group."
The participants also have fun while spending time with friends who have a similar interest in music, Eaton said.
"And they get to be a star for a little bit," she said.
Julie Turek, a member of Unique Harmony, said she has enjoyed being a part of a musical group for the first time in her life.
"This is my first opportunity," she said. "I play bells and do singing. I love it."