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Alumna Jackie Vanderbeck DiSalvo Makes a Difference for Senior Citizens

CCM alumna Jackie Vanderbeck DiSalvo

For Jackie Vanderbeck DiSalvo (BFA Musical Theatre, 2003), it all began with her great grandmother 'Grandma Dee Dee,' who got her nickname for singing "dee da dee da dee da dee" when she would bounce her grandchildren on her knee.

'Grandma Dee Dee' was living in an assisted living home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Whenever DiSalvo would visit, 'Grandma Dee Dee' would ask her great granddaughter to sing before she left. DiSalvo would often bring musical theatre friends with her on her visits and they would sing as well.

"This is where the inspiration for Sing for Your Seniors was cultivated," DiSalvo explains.

Founded in 2005, Sing for Your Seniors (or SFYS) is a non-profit organization that uses music to change lives and provides senior citizens with immediate and long-term benefits through musical enrichment in adult day centers, hospitals and living centers.

The seniors build ongoing relationships with talented young Broadway and Broadway-bound performers as they connect through music. Volunteer performers get to "give back" as they share their talents with enthusiastic audiences.

Since its inception, SFYS has grown from just a handful of volunteers to over 100 singers and performers working with six senior centers. DiSalvo attributes this to the tight knit theatre community in New York. Many of the volunteer performers are fellow graduates of CCM's musical theatre program, including Melissa Bohon (BFA Musical Theatre, 2003), Matthew Tweardy (BFA Musical Theatre, 2002), Daniel Torres (BFA Musical Theatre, 2001) and Barry James (2002), who helped build the SFYS website.

After Torres brought his cast from Evita to perform at one of the care centers, a chain of alumni followed suit. Tory Ross (BFA Musical Theatre, 2002) brought some of her castmates from Kinky Boots, Angelique Reda (BFA Musical Theatre, 2003) brought cast members from Chicago, Tiffany Haas (BFA Musical Theatre, 2005) organized a visit from the cast of Wicked and Valerie Williams (BFA Musical Theatre, 2006) brought her swing-style vocal trio, The Manhattan Dolls.

This prompted a partnership with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and a new program called "Broadway Sessions" emerged, bringing Broadway cast members to perform shows for the seniors. CCM Musical Theatre alumnus and Executive Director of Broadway Cares/EFA Tom Viola (BM Musical Theatre, 1976) was thrilled to join up with DiSalvo and other CCM alumni.

“Jackie has created a wonderful vehicle for bringing first class entertainment and connection to seniors in assisted living residences, community centers, hospitals and even hospice. At the same time, she has created an opportunity for many in the Broadway community to bond around a wonderful and growing sense of good will and generosity of spirit. The sense of camaraderie and longtime friendships first made at CCM have blossomed into good works shared well beyond Patricia Corbett Theater and Calhoun Street,” says Viola.

At Calvary Cancer Hospital, DiSalvo says she has watched many times as non-responsive patients awaken by a melody provided by a singer. “It’s a very powerful and beautiful thing to watch and be a part of. Not only do the performers take away the joy of giving back, they have spent an hour connecting through their music and most often experience a new perspective,” explains DiSalvo.

As SFYS continues to build relationships through music, DiSalvo says they hope to add three more care centers next year. As the seniors get to know the performers and the performers connect with seniors, an ongoing community experience evolves that, as one woman in hospice says, “moves us to living.”

You can learn more about Sing for Your Seniors by visiting http://singforyourseniors.org.

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