Forest Hills nonprofit heals with music

By Tammy Scileppi

Through remarkable acts of kindness and the healing power of music, a Forest Hills-based nonprofit called Songs of Love Foundation has been bringing smiles to the faces of thousands of ailing kids all across the country and the world.

And this year, it is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“I was walking down the street in January 1996 and I had a sudden epiphany to create a national charity that would provide personalized songs for seriously ill children and teens, free of charge. The name came to me instantly,” Founder and President John Beltzer said.

The longtime Queens resident said his brainchild was named after a tune titled “Songs of Love” that his fraternal twin brother, Julio, wrote and recorded just two months before he died on April 12, 1984, at just 24. He committed suicide.

Now, 20 years after the organization’s humble beginnings in Beltzer’s parents’ basement, nearly 27,000 uplifting songs of love have been created for as many children everywhere.

Lyrics containing the youngster’s name and references to all of a child’s favorite people, activities, pets, and things fill each professionally produced CD, and talented professionals write and perform the songs in the musical style that the child likes best.

“The songs have proven to be powerful therapeutic tools to help children cope with serious illness and lifetime physical or emotional disabilities,” Beltzer said.

It’s all about the medicine of music. And everyone agrees that the kids’ reactions when they receive their musical gifts is priceless.

“Songs of Love is such an invaluable gift for our children and families that counteracts and comforts any of the fear, anger or grief that an illness or injury brings,” Siri Bream, child life specialist at Richmond, Va.’s Children’s Hospital said. “The healing power of music is huge, but the power of feeling validated, of being honored, of being important enough to have a song that is entirely all about you, gives our patients a sense of belonging in this world, a sense of hope, a renewed purpose and determination to live.”

During a recent song fest, 1,500 college students joined voices at a conference in Indiana, and in so doing made 5-year-old leukemia patient Christian Parchman’s day brighter with a special serenade, while he was being treated at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.

“Christian loves rap music, so we made the song into a rap style song and the students added their voices right over the chorus,” Beltzer said.

Beltzer hopes to bring the experience to many more companies and schools.

Back in January, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) presented his special song to a happy recipient.

“I believe in the power of music and the positive impact it can have on people’s lives. That’s why I was especially proud to partner with an organization that uses music to uplift children during such difficult and challenging times,” Crowley said. “It was a thrill to record an original song through the Songs of Love Foundation and an even bigger thrill to be able to personally share it with young Victor Rugerio at Elmhurst Hospital.”

Another event took place at Webster Hall in the East Village when Songs of Love held its sold-out 6th Annual Benefit Concert featuring JRAD, a Grateful Dead cover band and the audience recorded a healing “song of love” for 14-year-old Justin Silver, a child with autism.

And heart transplant patient Paris Burris, 11, was all smiles when she heard her name on a tune that featured the voices of over 200 American Legion war veterans. Paris and family were present at that event which took place at a recent convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Manhattan-based songwriter Carl Allocco is a Queens native, who has been working with Songs of Love since he answered an ad that Beltzer placed in the Village Voice back in 1997.

“Since then, I’ve written over 3,500 songs for the organization and it has been a wonderful, rewarding experience,” Allocco said. “I’ve been to many events where the songs were personally delivered to a child, and the expression of joy on their faces when they receive it is beyond words. I feel humbled and honored to be able to use my talents this way: to put a smile on the face of a child going through a tough time.”

For the most part, songwriters can create the entire song by themselves, but sometimes they work with singers. Celebrity singers like Billy Joel, David Lee Roth, and Michael Bolton have teamed up with Songs of Love and donated their talents.

At Songs of Love, it seems that great karma abounds. Lucky youngsters benefit by receiving a memorable gift; the song becomes an everlasting keepsake for the child and family, bringing hope and lifting spirits.

Meanwhile, song contributors undoubtedly experience powerful feelings of purpose, knowing that they’re bringing happiness to a deserving youngster battling a serious illness. It’s a win-win for everyone.

To request a song, you can go to: www.songsoflove.org/request or call 1-800-960-SONG (7664).

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