By Tammy Scileppi
For so many years, Songs of Love has been putting smiles on kids’ faces with uplifting personalized songs recorded just for them.
But last week, founder John Beltzer was the one who was smiling. He and his Forest Hills-based nonprofit were presented with a whopping One Million Dollar Challenge grant by a Songs of Love “angel,” so more kids and teens facing tough medical, physical or emotional challenges could keep on smiling.
This particular “angel” was philanthropist Leon Cooperman, who is chairman/CEO of Omega Advisors. The event took place in his Manhattan office June 7.
Two former Songs of Love kids were there as well. Victoria Sidorski and Danielle Dugan, both 21, saw each other for the first time in 14 years, and didn’t recall that they were hospital roommates, according to Beltzer.
“Victoria had brain cancer and Danielle had stage four cancer. Both of them had grim prospects and today are fully recovered,” he said.
“Sesame Street’s” Bob McGrath and Al Jones, a reporter from 1010WINS, were also in attendance, as were Songs of Love staff, board and committee members.
“After persisting for three years, we were able to get Mr. Cooperman to pay a visit to our office so we could show him our operation and also have him be a part of the song presentation to Chloe Mitchell,” said Beltzer. The first-grader from Whitestone, who was diagnosed with leukemia in March, enjoyed a special performance last month.
Cooperman sang and also recorded a spoken introduction on her song.
“He really put his heart into the performance,” Beltzer said. “Mr. Cooperman was very moved and he said he would give us a $1 Million four-year challenge grant. We all broke out crying. This wonderful man came along and infused new life into Songs of Love as we were struggling financially.”
After facing many financial challenges since the crash of the economy back in 2008, Beltzer said Cooperman has singlehandedly placed Songs of Love on firm footing once again, and he and his foundation “are eternally grateful for this major gift from the Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation.
“Leon and Toby are our angels of love.”
To meet the challenge, Songs of Love is required to raise an additional $250,000 a year in order to satisfy the requirements of the grant. That means that every dollar someone donates will be matched by the Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation up to $250,000 a year.
This generous gift will enable Songs of Love to significantly expand their outreach to an additional 4,000 children within the next four years, according to Beltzer, who said each year they have been averaging 1,000 children at 500 hospitals, healthcare facilities and hospices across the country.
The nonprofit is currently creating 25 songs a week and will be needing more singer/songwriters as they expand their outreach.
“We would love to recruit more musical artists who reside right here in Queens,” Beltzer said. “We are overjoyed that Leon Cooperman saw the value, not only in terms of how the children are helped, but also how Songs of Love has given a platform for musical artists to keep creating great music that matters.”
Quoting Andrew Carnegie, Cooperman said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
“I believe in being my brother’s keeper. I don’t think money sitting in a bank is good. I’d rather help organizations that are doing good in this world.”