David, 31, has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition characterized by developmental delays, intellectual disability and a susceptibility to cardiovascular disease. He resides with others in a group home in Hartselle.

David was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome when he was two years old.

Vince Barrios, with his son David Barrios in Decatur last week, heads a nonprofit that is helping send 33 people in group homes to the Grand Ole Opry on Friday night.

“It was a bit of a struggle in his younger days, but as he got older, he started understanding more and could communicate more,” said his father, Vince Barrios. “We actually started off with a little bit of sign language when he was young.”

David left for Nashville on Sunday to attend the weeklong Lifting Lives Music Camp by the Academy of Country Music. It’s the third year David has attended.

The residential camp hosts 30-40 people with Williams Syndrome each year. The campers work with songwriters and artists in songwriting workshops, creating lyrics and themes for a song they help write. They rehearse the song with the artists each day.

On Friday night, the campers will perform alongside the artists on stage in a performance that will be recorded in front of a live audience at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The camp is a partnership between the Academy of Country Music and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, a developmental disability program within the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Researchers from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center attend the camp to observe the campers as they complete tasks throughout the week.

“They have people come from Vanderbilt who actually do assessments while they are at the camp so they can learn more about their disabilities,” said Sharri Mattox, an intellectual disability professional with Loyd Homes, affiliated with the group home where David resides. “We get the results back and I get to review them. We use the assessment to tailor what we do with him here.”

The campers are staying in dormitories at Vanderbilt University.

Vince Barrios said he has watched his son’s social life improve because of his interaction with like-minded individuals he befriends at the camp each year.

“For a whole week, he’s only with his peers,” Barrios said. “He comes back every year feeling better and looking good. There’s some there who are more high-functioning than he is and they just help bring him up.”

David’s sense of teamwork has also improved since attending the camps, so much so that he decided to apply for a job this year. In January he began working two hours a day for two days a week at Just Wing It on Somerville Road Southeast.

“He picks up the dishes and stuff and cleans the tables and he loves it,” his father said. “They’ll treat him real good, but they also make him do his job and he’s been learning so much.”

Vince Barrios said interacting with campers in Nashville has also taught David how to overcome stressful situations that normally would upset him in public, such as alarms, crying babies or other loud noises.

“Three weeks ago, we were in public and a baby started crying and I asked David if he wanted to step outside,” Vince Barrios said. “He just replied, ‘No Dad, that’s just the way babies talk.’ I never thought I would hear him act that way, so I think (the camp) has helped out with that a lot.”

Mattox said she has watched David’s confidence grow ever since he attended his first camp three years ago.

“What’s really cool at David’s job is there are repeat customers that come up there just to see him,” Mattox said. “He’s really getting to know people there and he has a lot of confidence now.”

On David’s big day on Friday, his friends from north Alabama will be in the audience cheering him on. The Morgan County Sheriff’s Posse and Detroit-based Anticipated Plastics helped purchase tickets for 33 individuals living in local group homes to watch David and his fellow campers perform. Special Seasons, a nonprofit headed by Vince Barrios that caters to individuals with special needs, also helped fund the tickets. 

“We have company vehicles we’ll transport them in,” Mattox said. “They are very excited.”