If you know Lavonne McRoberts — and you should — odds are it is as the front woman for the band Peace, Love & Stuff. But when McRoberts isn’t busy writing some of the best rockabilly-tinged music in town, she works in education, helping children with special needs. Music and those kids are the two things she considers herself genuinely passionate about, and she credits half of that equation to Luca Garcia.
Garcia is a young man with autism who McRoberts first befriended five years ago. As anybody who’s tried knows, building new connections with autistic children can sometimes be difficult. But McRoberts found that the pair had one important shared interest.
“The first time I was able to connect with him was through music,” she said. “I pulled out my guitar and go, ‘Hey, I play guitar, too,’ and he opened up right away and was able to talk to me about it.
“He’s pretty much a savant. He can listen to anything and play it. Since his love for music and mine kind of matched, we started playing music together.”
Every year since that bond was formed, McRoberts has participated in an annual “Team Luca Benefit,” a fundraiser geared toward raising money for the Iowa Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Each year, Team Luca raises several hundred dollars for Autism Speaks, and Luca participates in the walk, which takes place in June down at Principal Park.
“It’s a team effort,” McRoberts said of the benefit. “This year his family took a lot of the direction and booked the venue. We’ve been trying to find sponsorships and other ways to raise money for autism, and his mother has taken charge of a lot of that.”
For her part, McRoberts is happy to perform every year and do what she can to help her friend — returning the favor to someone she feels has done so much for her.
“He has kind of transformed everything that I thought I was doing with my life,” she admitted. “He’s helped me realize that I want to work with kids with autism, so I went back to school to get my masters in education. He’s also helped me realize that music is pretty universal. I know it sounds cliché, but you can connect with people on so many different levels.
“I really want to work with kids with autism, and I really want to work on music. Luca let’s me do both. And that’s cool.” CV