The 10 children who stood in front of an audience of friends, family, and Hillsides staff last week in the library to present a music video and song they co-wrote and performed at first glance may not have appeared to have much in common. Yes, they all live at Hillsides. They have all experienced trauma. But they are different ages, ranging from 10 – 17, and come from varied cultures and backgrounds. The circumstances leading them each to Hillsides are no doubt unique.
What unified the youngsters, however, was the profound loneliness they’d experienced at one point in their lives, and their desire to reach out to others who’d felt that way.
This universal emotion and a shared vision of converting personal struggles into a message of hope, was the catalyst for the hauntingly beautiful song they wrote with professional singer-songwriter Jenni Alpert, entitled “You Are Not Alone.”
The chorus of the song says it all:
“I want to give you hope
I want to give you love
You are not alone
Stay strong, stay strong, stay strong
You are not alone.”
“I know what it’s like to be depressed,” said one of the children. “I want people who have been depressed to know there is hope. There is someone out there.” Another girl, 14, explained that in her past “people turned their backs on me.” But, rather than give in to despair, she reached out to friends and staff at Hillsides, and in doing so, felt better.
As part of the creative process, the children had to confront and examine their own feelings of loneliness, which is no easy feat. Then they had to face the fear of performing. Besides singing the song, they also acted in the music video, which shows a series of vignettes of “happy endings,” for example, when a girl who is homeless finds food, shelter, and companionship. For most of the children, this was the first time they had sung or acted. But when their song and video debuted in front of the audience last week, judging from the huge smiles on their faces, there was no doubt how much pride and happiness they felt at their performances.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience was made possible by actress and philanthropist Ari Meyers. You may know of her because in the 1980s she was a child star in the TV show “Kate & Allie.” But we have come to know her for her dedication, patience, and caring in helping the children conceive of and execute a project dear to their hearts. She was referred to us by Mary Dee Hacker, a three-time member of Hillsides board of directors.
Some six years ago, Ari created a program called “My Purpose Party.” This program believes that everyone has something unique and valuable to offer the world, and it helps youth use the things that they love to do to give back to others by raising goods, funds, or an awareness about an issue. Presenting the song and video to the audience was Hillsides “Purpose Party,” and the culmination of months of hard work.
At Hillsides, we have over and over again seen the healing benefits of music and other creative endeavors. We also know how when children tackle new and difficult projects they emerge more confident and capable.
Through collaborating with Ari and songwriter Jenni Alpert, our children were able to gain clarification on their feelings, express themselves in a new, creative way, and translate what could have been overwhelming feelings of loss into a triumphant performance. It is through partnerships like this that Hillsides is able to provide truly transformative moments for the children we serve.
If you would like to share your talents or programs with Hillsides, we welcome your expertise and partnership. Please contact Laura Kelso, our director of community resources, at 323-254-2274, ext. 1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org to gain more information. Collaboration is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. As the children’s song goes, none of us are alone, and no one can do it all alone either.