A musician and his audience in harmony


Woodstown native and talented musician Ryan “Gooch’ Nelson has had his struggles. The first words off his debut alhum, “Comin’ Home,” are “Everybody’s got problems. Lord knows I’ve had mine.” However, his positive outlook on life, evidenced by his attitude and music, outshines Nelson’s hardships.

Ryan “Gooch” Nelson, in wheelchair, and his band, Gooch and the Motion, perform Oct. 25 at Saint John of God Community Services, Westville Grove. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

On New Year’s Day 2004 Nelson, then 18, was in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, with the limited use of his right arm. His main concern in the immediate aftermath, though, was the question of ever being able to play his beloved guitar again. For him, music was life.

He persisted, and soon learned to play the instrument in a new way: over his lap, with a glass slide on his thumb.

Ten years ago, another challenge: a diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia. Now in remission, Nelson continues to pursue his passion.

His personal message resonated long after the last chord — and touched the hearts of the staff, students, parents, and clients — at a concert at Westville Grove’s Saint John of God Community Services on Oct. 25 where Nelson and his band, Gooch and the Motion, played their unique blend of country, blues, and rock n’roll to a rousing crowd.

Through its programs, which include the K-12 Archbishop Damiano School, inclusive daycare and preschool, adult job training and clinic services, Saint John of God aims to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, and create an inclusive space with dignity and respect.

“It’s inspiring to see someone who’s come above (his challenges), and not let his disability dampen his desire or talents,” said Hospitaller Brother Thomas Osorio, executive director of Saint John of God.

Nelson’s impact, Brother Tom noted, was evident in attendees’ reactions post-concert.

“The first thing people talked about was how awesome the music was,” not his disability, Brother Tom said..

Nancy Mansfield, chief officer of development, said Nelson’s life story, passion and determination “fit perfectly with our mission.”

“He doesn’t dwell on the negative, but the positive, and uses music to focus on his zest for life,” she said.

“His support comes from faith, family, and fans. … He wants others with disabilities, health issues or any life obstacle to know a good life is always possible, if desired.”

Saint John of God Community Services cast a wide net over the Delaware Valley, advertising the event, and Brother Tom remarked that the estimated hundred that came for the concert “learned about our story, and why we are here,” to provide an environment of hospitality, quality of service, respect for all, and spirituality, as responsible caretakers of the mission of its founder.

Just as it has been throughout the life of “Gooch,” so, too, is hope ever-present in the work of Saint John of God community services, he said.

“Miracles happen here every day.”