‘A little help from my friends’: Artists get a lift from Emily’s Fund

  • A fund created to honor Emily List’s memory — the Emily List Fund for Performing Arts Therapy — extends a little help this year to its performing artist friends who use theater, dance and music to help those who are disadvantaged. CONTRIBUTED

For the Recorder
Published: 7/17/2021 9:02:51 AM

Emily List was a big Beatles fan who understood Ringo when he said: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

So the fund created to honor Emily’s memory — the Emily List Fund for Performing Arts Therapy — will extend a little help this year to its performing artist friends who use theater, dance and music to help those who are disadvantaged.

Grants in this 10th year of the fund will go to five groups as they emerge from a difficult pandemic year in which they continued to work with their clients online instead of acting, dancing and making music with them in person.

The fund was established in 2012 in memory of Emily, an actor, a dancer and a lover of all the performing arts, who lost her life to a rare form of cancer in 2011. In its first 10 years, it has awarded $65,000 in grants to 25 groups, most of them local.

The recipients this year hope to use their grants to re-connect in the real world.

Whole Children, based in Hadley, helps teens and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities explore their passion for theater because, as Valle Dwight says, “people with disabilities should not be relegated to the sidelines in theater or in life.”

Whole Children’s March 2020 show had to be canceled a week shy of opening night because of the pandemic, but Dwight, director of development and communications, says they’re bringing back in-person theater this summer and teaching two classes because of its popularity.

Enchanted Circle Theater works with schools in Holyoke and Springfield to create and perform original theater pieces linked to curriculum, which it continued to do remotely last year.

Executive Director Priscilla Kane Hellweg says thousands of students are served each year through these programs that motivate them to learn, support them in believing they can be successful and help them “develop the 21st century skills of innovation and creative thinking necessary for their success in the future” — programs that hopefully can take place in person next school year.

Born Dancing Inc., led by founder Melissa van Wijk, provides high-level dance instruction for students with physical and intellectual disabilities and other underserved communities. Born Dancing produces original performances in which students appear with professional dancers, after taking classes that transition into productions.

Van Wijk had to cancel last year’s performances, but she shared videos of the dancers working at home and is now creating a new show —“our biggest production to date” — at New York City’s Flea Theater.

SciTech Band Director Gary Bernice is hoping to get the band back together — literally — after a year in which he and his co-directors created a comprehensive online music program for their musicians. More than 400 instruments were distributed to students at home, and band directors created 250 lesson videos and conducted 6,000 individual lessons on Zoom.

Called “The Pride of Springfield,” the band has created “an environment through music that challenges and motivates students to strive for excellence,” according to Bernice, and those who play for more than one year are three times more likely to stay in school.

“This school year was unlike any other,” Bernice says, “but our students never gave up!”

Neither did the participants in “Dancing with Our Docs,” a fundraiser for a breast cancer survivors’ dance program sponsored by the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Mount Clemens, Michigan.

Pat Keigher, Regional Director of Cancer Services, says: “As did Emily, our patients use dance to help fight their battle with cancer. The power of dance and music helps redirect their focus on healing and not their diagnosis. Their performances are truly inspirational and a tribute to all cancer patients.”

The program had to be canceled last year, but the same four patients, paired with their doctors in choreographed, costumed dance routines, are getting ready to dance again this fall when they’ll perform for a thousand guests at an annual breast cancer awareness event.

And with a little help from Emily’s Fund, they’ll do it.

Karen List is Emily’s mom and a professor in the UMass Journalism Department. For more information, visit emilylistfund.org/.


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