According to a Chinese proverb, "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."
Each member of the R.O.C.c.k Children's Choir has both a story and a song, and thanks to Brenda Rider, president of the choir, the process of singing plays a large part in their healing.
According to information provided by Rider, the choir is comprised of survivors, relatives, and those touched by cancer. As members, the children gain the compassion and strength they demonstrate in their everyday lives that helps them grow into caring adults.
Photo special to the Town Crier
Singing music that according to Brenda Rider is age appropriate and enjoyable to all, pictured are members of the R.O.C.c.K. Children’s Choir: (front row): Jarod Bosley, Chris Grimm, Becca Makar, Kylie Stilgenbauer, and Elissa Matthews, and (back row): Allie Stilgenbauer (held by Kim Dietz), Nick Grimm, Kaitlyn Dietz, Olivia Makar, Victoria Smith, Karen Stilgenbauer, and Brenda Rider.
Founded in 2002 by Rider, Janeen Williams and Paul Skowron, when they collaborated on a song to record for the children of Tod's Children's Hospital of Youngstown, "This first group of children became the R.O.C.c.K. (Raising Our Commitment for cancer Kids) Choir," said Rider.
Meredith Reffner, formerly of Poland, and currently a student at Indiana University, was part of that original choir in 2002, and remained involved until she turned 17, according to her mother, Susan Reffner.
The significance, according to Rider, in keeping the second "c" in lower case is symbolic of making the painful effects of cancer in the kids' life later on, small, compared to what they can gain from the survival experiences they make and encounter along the way.
Sponsored by the A Way With Words Foundation, Inc., Rider said that just as there are as many treatments for cancer as there are cancers, one of which is music and another, poetry, the foundation uses music, poetry, and art to help those touched by cancer to survive and to cope with the outcome.
A native of Austintown and a former Austintown police officer, Rider is an 11-year cancer survivor herself. Sharing that it was during her own treatment that she dusted off her guitar and found both peace in music, and the idea of a children's choir, Rider said of the choir members, "These children are not necessarily musicians -- they are only children with a love for music and whose lives have known cancer. The sound of this choir is excellent, but when you listen with your heart, they take your breath away."
With an average of 24 members ranging in age from two to 17, this year marks the R.O.C.c.K. Children's Choir's 10th anniversary in its volunteer service to help cancer patients of all ages fight through the disease.
Having now performed by invitation only at approximately 2,500 events, Rider said all of the songs the choir performs are written by local musicians who have donated the songs for their use.
"The places we've visited and the amount of people we have touched continues to inspire the dream to have a R.O.C.c.K. Children's Choir in every major city," she said.
With exciting plans for 2012, on March 9, Country Music Association artist Billy Dean will perform at the DeYor Performing Arts Center with the R.O.C.c.K. Children's Choir and local singing sensation Sara Turner.
Proceeds from the concert will benefit the choir's tour, about which Rider said, "Events like the 'Kids Helping Kids' tour is accomplished by generous donors like you," adding that the year-round fundraising they do covers the expenses and helps local kids going through treatment to make it easier on them.
Rider shared that in April, the choir will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will sing at the Old Post Office Pavilion, later meeting U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, where they will sing on the steps of the capital building.
"He wanted to brag about our area and the good things our community does and supports," said Rider of Ryan.
"There are many reasons to help a child, but nothing is as rewarding as watching a child feel control in a disease that takes all the control," said Rider, who knows firsthand the strength and weaknesses of cancer.
Further information on the choir can be found at www.awaywithwordsfoundation.org. Those interested in donating talent, funds, or fundraising ideas that will allow the choir to continue to celebrate what the tour can and has accomplished, can contact the choir at 330-538-7000, or at firstname.lastname@example.org, according to Rider.
"Children have such innocence about the battle they face, yet they manage to be happy and carry the weight of the sadness alone," said Rider, adding, "They've taught so many to listen with their heart, the voices of angels can be heard and together we will make a difference. There's hope in what we do."