NEW YORK – For families with special needs children, their time together is too often punctuated by challenges. But now one project aims to celebrate all that is wonderful about their family and bring that joy to others.
Eight-year-old Greta Baier is at the keyboard, practicing piano as she does every day. She’s intensely focused on getting the notes to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” just right. A tough task for any aspiring player, made more difficult by Greta’s rare neuromuscular disorder.
Across town, Juan Fernandez plays his own keyboard, singing the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s hit, “It’s My Life.” And Juan also faces his own battles, as he is blind and has autism. Both families share a bond. Each of their children has been captured, precisely and uniquely, in song.
“Millions and millions of Americans have of disabilities. We pity them. But their lives are actually filled with joy and love and interests like anyone else,” explains Dr. Michael Pizzi, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Dominican College and founder of www.touchinghumanityinc.org Also an actor, he conceived of the “Wellsongs Project” to share what’s unique and amazing about each of these children with a far wider audience.
Volunteer composers interview families, then weave together everything that makes kids like Greta, great.
In her case, a love of movie villains, like Maleficent, dance, and music. How does her song make her feel?
In between pumps of her ventilator, she smiles. “It feels like I’m popular,” she says sweetly, and somewhat shyly.
A CD of all the songs created is in the works. The families all recently met and celebrated at a concert debut of the creations, where every song got the Broadway star treatment. Each was sung by a Broadway performer.
“They speak about the lives of these children not their disabilities,” explained Pizzi. And Greta’s mothers beamed as they talked about her song, with lyrics like “Greta race the wind,” because of her love for speed in her wheelchair. “You could get to know the kid beyond what their disability or condition was,” explained Kate Baier.
Her wife Lyn added, “There are so many things she can do. She works her magic in so many ways!”
Next, Pizzi hopes for a Broadway production. And he’s got a few collaborators he’d like to work with: names like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Stephen Sondheim.
Families in New York, Westchester and Rockland Counties are eligible to be a part of the project. And Pizzi is hoping people with hearts as full as his will help his project continue by giving to the funding campaign here.