I do a lot of fund-raising on behalf of a number of charities through my dog Spencer's Facebook page, so I decided to combine all my charitable work under the umbrella of "Spencer's Fund." I choose charities that have deep and personal meaning to me - not because they are popular; but because I believe in what they do. The charities listed here are NOT by any means the only ones I support, but these will always be included in the rotation.
Feeding America (Hunger) • CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates (Child Abuse)
Swan Songs (Hospice) • The Dog & Cat Cancer Fund (Cancer in Animals)
02/01/15: CURRENT CHARITY RECEIVING THE PROCEEDS OF SPENCER'S FUND: CASA
The Give a Meal Program
The easiest one to tell you about is Feeding America's Give a Meal. I don't know if you've ever been hungry .. not the "I've missed lunch and my stomach is growling or the I didn't get to eat breakfast and I think I'm gonna die if I don't eat soon" kind of hungry .. but the "I haven't eaten in a couple days, I've got no money and I don't know what I'm going to do" kind of hungry.
We live in an incredible country and while there are plenty of challenges and problems here, the one thing that shouldn't be an issue is hunger! And we have hungry people, children .. the elderly .. the homeless .. families .. and the Give a Meal program turns $1 into 9 meals .. 9 MEALS!!!
While it might not always be CASA, the specifics about why I have dedicated my Lullabies CD to Scott McMillan will never change and the dedicated proceeds from it's commercial sales will ALWAYS go to to providing Player Gift Boxes at no cost to qualified recipients and, if there's anything remaining in the the TLP fund, that will be donated to an organization fighting child violence!
The issue of violence against children has ALWAYS been one of my primary concerns and one of my greatest sources of frustration and sadness. As someone who has experienced it personally, I know how it changed me. As a volunteer with a program called Rolling Readers .. I encountered just a tiny bit of the aftermath of violence as it was affecting the children I worked with.
For years, I have had people ask me to do a CD of lullabies. It started one day when a friend's child with a sore tummy lay in my lap sleeping while I sang to her. A few years back, I was a volunteer in the newborn nursery of St. David's and it was my absolute joy to give these little spirits their first baths. While doing it, I'd sing to them and frequently I'd be asked to hold an unsettled baby and, of course, I'd sing to it as well. I have thought about a CD but the time never seemed right until 6 months ago when, on October 14, 2014, I stepped into the studio to begin work on Lullabies.
However, something occurred shortly after beginning that infuriated, frustrated and absolutely broke my heart! It sure complicated recording my vocal tracks. On November 4, 2014 .. a little red-headed 3 year old named Scotty McMillan was tortured and beaten to death by his mother and her live-in boyfriend. What could a baby do that deserved that? Refused to eat his breakfast!!! Dear God!!! Who of us haven't refused to eat our breakfast as kids or adults? I didn't know him or his family but I know he deserved better. And yes .. this red-headed 3 year old haunted me while I layed the vocals still remaining!! All kids should should feel caresses, not blows. They should hear lullabies, NOT hate!
So that's why CASA!! If you are not aware of them, please check them out!!!
"Every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 951 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates—empowered directly by the courts—offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care.
Volunteers stay with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
I had been a member of Swan Songs as one of the performers to whom they have access about a year before I received "the call." Of all the gigs I have done or will every do .. this one had to go perfectly and I couldn't let "nerves" show on this one - NOT THIS ONE! As it turned out, it was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had as a person AND as a musician and I have never felt the use of my talent was as blessed as it was for that 40 minutes. I'll finish the story in a minute but let me tell you about Swan Songs first.
Swan Songs fulfills musical wishes at the end of life by organizing private concerts for individuals with a terminal illness. At their request, a favorite style of music or musician is brought directly to the home or facility. The private concert allows recipient, family and friends to focus beyond the illness and come together through the medium of music. There is NO cost to the family.
Swan Songs concerts are performed in hospitals, residential hospice facilities, private homes, nursing homes, and assisted living centers. Concerts are usually acoustic, often solo, duo or up to four musicians maximum.
Swan Songs concerts are typically 30-40 minutes. These are intimate, up-close concerts in an environment that may be emotionally charged and require great sensitivity and flexibility. ( www.swansongs.org )
Well, I went to the hospice and met my audience. It included the individual for whom I was invited, her children and her best friend of 45 years. Scattered all over her as she lay in the bed were photos .. her life, her loves, her children, friends, pets - she was cocooned in all of the visual memories of her life.
I stood next to her bed after apologizing to the rest of the audience for standing with my back to them. I needed to be close to her and sat up my iPad and little speaker near her head so she could, above all else, hear and feel the music and then I sang to her. For 35 minutes, I sang all the standards she loved .. some ballads, some swing, some latins. Her eyes never left my face once inspite of the pain she was having .. she listened and I know that she wasn't seeing me but the instances that each song raised in her memory. As she grew tired, I prepared to leave and then she asked for one last song.
I left that small intimate concert held in a hospice room with such a small but intimate audience, sat in my car and cried. I also thanked the Creator for this opportunity I had been blessed with.
So .. when asked why Swan Songs .. I say "because I hope there will be someone to sing to me when it's my time!!
Sonny weighed in at 113 lb., tall as a racehorse and just as fast! I'm here today because of this long legged Dobie .. Sonny was friend, pal, confident, therapist, safety officer, so many things .. he was my service dog!!
I got him when he was 5 weeks old or rather he got me - sometimes you just don't say no! Didn't take long for him to climb right into my heart and he claimed me as his own. I think by the time we got into the car - it was a done deal and little did I know that the universe had big plans for us both!!
In an odd example of universal timing, I was in a serious accident shortly after getting Sonny. In addition to the physical damage, I came out of it with a traumatic brain injury. It took me a full two years to relearn walking and talking. During that time, Sonny started growing and evolving. Mostly it was intuitive and my doctors decided he should be sent to school to tighten things up and teach him the skills he'd need to help me get safely through my day. Personally, it was his intuitive skills that saved my life - he didn't care that I couldn't form sentences, he'd listen anyway. He didn't care that I lumbered when I walked or fell over because of balance and ataxia problems. When we would take little walks, he knew that when I sat down on the curb - I was disoriented and didn't know the way home so he'd sit facing me nose-to-nose until it passed. And when I started getting brave enough to venture out in public he'd place himself between me and the "people" and would listen so intently to them as they talked to us and somehow he made me brave enough to talk back to them. I carried an ID card that explained my TBI problems (I carry it still) and, for the most part, people were nice and polite and friendly. And .. those who weren't .. didn't hang around long because Sonny was also intuitive about them as well!
Life continued inspite of the challenges and the crisis' that came into it. I grew, evolved, improved, learn to cope with the permanent aftereffects of the wreck and my traumatic brain injury. Through it all, Sonny was there! When my world was devastated by the dissolution of a 21 year marriage, Sonny was there. When my breast cancer returned .. Sonny was there!
Then HE was diagnosed with cancer. OMG! My world was rocked and collapsed! The money to try and treat his cancer simply wasn't there and so I did the best I could to keep him comfortable, happy and involved with life! Roughly a year after his diagnosis, I came home from a gig, it was just a bit before Christmas. Sonny was down and so he and I took the trip to the emergency hospital and, ultimately, I set him free at age 11!!
Several years later, I was fostering a dog while his Army mom served in Afghanistan and I created a Facebook page so she could keep up with him. Through his page, I learned about Chase Away K9 Cancer and I supported their work through the dog's page by doing fund-raisers; that work brought me to The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund, a non-profit organization that not only supports research to find answers for this devastating disease (and yes .. the numbers of animals who get cancer is staggering!) but they help qualified owners fund the necessary surgery and treatment (including chemotherapy).
What I wouldn't have given to have an organization like that available for Sonny. I can't know how long it would have extended his life but it would have been worth the effort to try! So .. if you ask me "why The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund" as one of the charities I support .. here's the answer .. Sonny!
This photo was taken 6 months before my Sonny
crossed the Rainbow Bridge .. still feels like yesterday!
IMC's 2014 Best Female Jazz Artist
"It's not enough for music to BE good, it also has to DO good!"