Winners Win | January 23, 2018

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A young kid with autism finds new life through music

A young kid with autism finds new life through music

| On 02, Nov 2013

Frank Podlaha is a network and software engineer with an entrepreneurial drive. He’s also someone with a spirit to help others which had a lot to do with his most recent startup. Although when he set out on his venture, Frank could have never imagined how much impact his new project would have on a young boy from Canada with autism.

Frank’s new project is called Street Jelly. The premise is to allow street performers and other music artists to play live online while enabling viewers – the audience – to choose what type of music they want to listen to and what artists they want to watch… leaving tips for the ones they like if they want.


It’s a completely interactive environment where users can request songs, chat with the artists and as I previously mentioned, leave tips for their favorite performers. Basically, Street Jelly gives artists who might not have the means or know-how to “get their music to the masses” the ability to do just that. And, it’s completely free for anyone to register As long as they have access to a video camera, a microphone and a computer, they’re pretty much ready to go. There are also a lot of artists that play live from their home studios and other locations.


This is where Robert’s story comes in. You see, Robert is a special needs child with a form of autism. For the better part of the first 7 years of his life, Robert did not speak. He was also prone to violent outbursts, most often targeted towards his mother, Amanda. Then, one day, a very special music man named Merv came into their lives.




Here is their story as was written in a letter to me from Amanda, Robert’s mother


Hi, my name is Amanda. I am engaged to Merv, whom you spoke with, and the mother of Robert. Merv and I have been together for eight years. Robert was 6 when Merv and I met and couldn’t really speak. Because of this he was a very frustrated and aggressive child… I was his favorite target. He would bite, kick, hit and head butt me when he was upset. He would also try to hurt himself. He would hit himself and bang his head against the floors, walls or any other hard surface that was nearby.


Amazingly, that all changed when he was introduced to playing music. When Robert was about 7, Merv brought a keyboard home and started playing. Robert loved to watch… he seemed entranced by the sounds and it wasn’t long before he wanted to ‘play’ too! He would bang on that keyboard for hours; he especially loved the sound effects.


To our ears he was just making noise and what we didn’t know, yet, is that he was actually learning the tones and where they were on the keyboard. One afternoon I was in the kitchen doing dishes when I heard a melody that I recognized. I came out of the kitchen to find Robert at the keyboard playing a song from one of his favorite movies at that time, The Secret of Nimh. I was shocked because at this point he hadn’t been taught how to play at all. I remember looking at Merv and telling him that he had to start teaching Robert right away. To our amazement, within a half an hour Robert learned all the major and minor chords and scales. It wasn’t long after that Robert really emerged from his shell. He started talking more, started showing interest in other people and what they were doing, his aggression disappeared at home and eventually at school too. It truly was a miracle achieved through the power of music.


As Robert continued to improve his piano skills, we started performing occasionally at the church we were attending. Robert proved to all of us that he was truly a performer at our first show. Where some kids might have been intimidated getting up in front of a large group of people, not my Robert. He grabbed the mic and proudly said “Let’s hear it for my crew”. The whole room was smiling as we began… it was great day, one I will never forget. After that we never really knew what Robert was going to say when on stage but we knew it didn’t matter. The fact was he was talking and I could not have been any happier.


Eventually we ended up leaving that church and pretty much lost our only musical outlet. We kept playing together but had nowhere to perform for an audience. Then about a year ago Merv stumbled across and suddenly we had an audience again. We all quickly fell in love with Street Jelly and the people that we met there. Robert loved it right from the start and slowly we started seeing him opening up again. He started greeting people that came to watch us, at first just those he knew but now he greets everyone that comes into one of our “shows”. We now perform 2-3 times a week and Robert just adores being in front of a camera. We have also heard from so many people how Robert’s story really inspires them, especially after they know how far he has come with the help of Merv, music and now Street Jelly.


Not only has music helped Robert, Merv has started to teach music to children with autism and other special needs. We are witnessing behavioral transformations and a building up of their confidence too. I really don’t know where Robert and I would be if Merv hadn’t come into our lives. One thing I’m sure of is that music helped my son to step out of the dark that he lived in for 7 years and is leading the way into a much brighter future.



This is the kind of story that teaches us that as long as we keep moving forward and reaching out to others while we’re on our journey that amazing things will continue to happen. If you get a chance to make a difference in someone’s life today take it.


Thanks for reading and have a great day!



If you would like to tune into Street Jelly and listen to Robert, Merv and gang playing live, check out their schedule here!


  • sarahevanston

    What a very cool thing to do! I’ll bet that means so much to Robert, having someone to look up to and possibly even mentor him in the field of music. It’s definitely a morale booster!

    • Winners Win

      Thanks for commenting Sarah and you surely have to be right… there is no telling how much Robert appreciates what all of this (Merv, music, Street jelly, etc.) has done and continues to do for him!


  • matt n

    Music is so important to anyone with autism, Frank Podlaha is a real hero in my book. Many people just shrug off people with disabilities without even realizing how they feel.

    • Winners Win

      No doubt Matt and thanks for commenting. Frank is definitely a great guy and what he has going on with is pretty neat.

      Although I haven’t met Merv personally, we have talked on the phone and communicated several times. As his fiance’ Amanda stipulated in her letter above, he is now teaching other autistic kids how to play instruments.

      Super good stuff all the way around!


  • Peter Erik Bensen

    What an inspiring story! I see them on all the time. They put on a great and spirited show of Newfoundland and Irish folk tunes and are very popular.

    • Winners Win

      Thanks Peter… a great story for sure!

      • Peter Erik Bensen

        Thank YOU, Winners Win. Maybe this story will give added hope to those suffering, and to their families and loved ones.

        • Winners Win

          I guess the best way to create more awareness is to spread the love!

          This is what we’re going to be doing – gathering, building, collaborating on and of course publishing these types of stories so by all means, share the word!


  • ed pierce

    Frank is an inspiration to us all. He is a very special person who has the ability to both see and hear the beauty in the world that is around him. His talent goes well beyond his music!

    • Winners Win

      Frank is a great guy for sure Ed but I think you might have him confused with Merv. Frank is the guy who owns Street Jelly, which is a great platform for up and coming performers.

      Merv on the other hand is the one who taught Robert to play and he is now helping other autistic and special needs people about music.

      Thanks for commenting on the story and pop in often… we’re going to be “launching’ soon and will be putting out a lot of great inspirational stories like these and on many other topics!

  • jon terns

    My wife’s brother is autistic and I can see a lot of Robert in him, they share many of the same qualities and both have a deep love for music and learning.

    • Image Teach

      there on a wonderful journey!

  • AC81

    Thank you so much for telling Robert’s story. :) He really is a very special kid.

  • Image Teach

    Jim thank you very much for doing our story ! we are very proud of how far he has come , we would like to invite all parents of special needs kids to say hello to Robert live at one of our streetjelly shows and mention winners win !!

    • Winners Win

      You are very welcome Merv… hopefully we can do others as you carry on with your inspirational work!