News & Press Releases

Xcite Steps! Building Social Harmonies

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 FILED IN: News

“Jayelle wanted something that she didn’t have to be involved in,” explains Winkley. “She wanted something for her sons to have on their own. People don’t just hang out with their parents. We’re the go-between between child and family. We help them have lives outside their families.”

Hochfilzer, 26, and Winkley, 29, met three years ago. Hochfilzer studied business at UC Berkeley and had worked with challenged kids since his teens. Winkley, who has a master’s degree in spiritual healing, also grew up around people with disabilities — his parents worked in human services.

After college, Hochfilzer took a job in risk consulting, but soon felt like his talents could be put to better use elsewhere. In 2004, he founded Club Xcite, a one-on-one mentoring program that customizes its services for each family. Xcite’s mentors — mostly recent college grads — coach kids on everything from math to making friends to behavior modification through positive and laidback teaching.

“We look at each family separately,” says

Hochfilzer. “We try to set up a good life system for the kids. They need different kinds of support at different stages.”

Winkley is a mentor and the program director of Xcite Steps, an extension of Club Xcite. The program focuses on group activities, and includes Kids Adventure Club (ages 8 to 12), Youth Social Club and Steps Ups Club ( for teens), and Adult Social Club (18+), as well as sports leagues for all ages.

The Xcite Steps offerings range from after-school programs to summer camp (visit xcitesteps.com for upcoming schedules). Hochfilzer says Xcite Steps works with about 100 families. The Adult Social Club, with about a dozen members, is the smallest part of the organization. But for the Alper brothers, it’s been life-changing.

“John came into my life because I didn’t have a friend,” explains Greg, who says he loves Elvis and The Rolling Stones and always wanted to play music. “I just needed someone to come in and help me learn what life really meant. He has really turned my life around.”

It’s band-practice night at the Alper house and the Alper brothers are decked out for the occasion. Singer Greg wears a porkpie hat and gold Elvis glasses and rhythm guitarist Darren is in a black leather jacket. The two grin at their buddy and tattooed lead guitarist John Afshari, who gives them a friendly nod and a count-off. And then they jam.

The Alper Brothers Blues Band isn’t your run-of-the-mill basement-rock band. (The band has a fourth member, Kyle Miller, who didn’t make that night’s practice.) Greg, 43, and Darren, 39, have fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause various degrees of inherited mental impairment. The brothers live independently, sharing an apartment in Encinitas and working at a local grocery store. But making friends and having a “normal” social life has always been tough.

Then the Alper family hooked up with a San Diego-based organization called Xcite Steps, which provides mentoring and social outlets for kids, teens, and adults with fragile X, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental and cognitive disabilities. Since then, Greg and Darren have made a close friend. They adore Afshari, and in his company they’ve experienced everything from karaoke to a weekend in Vegas.

“Now they’re bachelors having an independent life,” says their mother, Jayelle Sargent. She beams as she watches her two sons practice in the living room of her Encinitas home, a few blocks from their apartment. “Pretty much until the band, their entertainment and socialization was with us.”

That’s a common scenario for parents of children with such disabilities, say Xcite founders Stefan Hochfilzer and Matt Winkley, even when those children become adults.

Darren, who strums an acoustic guitar, is affable but somewhat quiet. He smiles often and says simply that he loves being in the band.

The Alper Brothers recorded a CD before Christmas. They also play open-mic gigs at cafes, which Afshari says helps them become more comfortable interacting with people. They also perform at events thrown by Xcite Steps.

“It motivates people to see these guys following their dreams,” says Afshari.

Xcite Steps is not a nonprofit — there are fees for mentoring and activities — but Hochfilzer and Winkley say that they are working towards establishing a foundation so that all San Diego families in need, regardless of income, can see their kids beam with pride like the Alper brothers do when they play the blues.

— AnnaMaria Stephens, photo by Kristy Ann Mann




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