The Ukulele Kids Club: Sharing Hope and Healing Through Music

Corey Bergman has been an avid guitarist for his entire life – 50 years and counting. His son Jared, who tragically passed after contracting a virus in college, had a huge heart for children and loved helping the Make a Wish Foundation and other child-centered charities. After Jared’s passing, Corey decided to honor his son and share his passion by making some wishes come true.

At first, Corey helped by sending two sick children to Disney World; however, he says in a TEDx Talk, that just didn’t seem like enough: He wanted to do much more. During a meeting at Make a Wish Foundation headquarters, it was suggested that Corey get deeper into wish granting by interviewing children and their families; over the next few years, he granted more than 20 Disney wishes.

Making a Difference with Music: How the Ukulele Kids Club got Its Start

After moving to Miami, Corey made a contact who worked with Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. Although he continued to grant wishes, his tour of the hospital prompted him to volunteer at the family resource center. Sensing that something was “missing,” he decided to bring his guitar along one day – and when he began to play, several children started to dance. Families began to talk, sing, and have fun as the atmosphere lightened, so Corey continued to bring his guitar on visits. Soon, he started visiting more hospitals, bringing his guitar up into silent, solemn units filled with sick children. As he walked through the units and played, doors began to open and people responded, instantly becoming more cheerful.

A chance meeting with a 15-year old patient named Jason opened the door for what would happen next: The boy was a talented guitarist and part of a rock band, and though he was very sick, he perked up when talking music with Corey. Corey handed his guitar off to Jason, but IV lines prevented the boy from reaching all the way around the instrument. Corey gave Jason a smaller backpack guitar that accommodated the boy’s IV lines, and soon after, the two began to play together in what was truly a transformative moment.

Jason was among the first of many children to enjoy Corey’s willingness to share his guitar. An encounter with a 13-year old named Sophie led to something truly fantastic: The girl needed a small instrument, so Corey gave her a ukulele. As she strummed, the mood in the room lightened. People started to smile and laugh. As time passed, Corey and his team handed ukuleles out, one after another. The children flourished as they learned to play.

Soon, Corey was taking donations and using them to purchase more ukuleles. The non-profit Ukulele Kids Club was officially born in January of 2014, with the mission of donating ukuleles to hospitalized children all over America. By March of 2016, the club had donated over 1,500 ukuleles, and that number continues to grow.

Ukulele Kids Club Thrives, Spreading Passion for Music and A Heart for Healing

Ukulele Kids Club is rapidly expanding with the help of people like music therapist Stephanie Epstein, who travels to hospitals and helps children write songs that express the way they feel, promoting hope and healing along the way. The music helps the children while they’re in the hospital, and it continues to help them meet goals as their lives progress.

“For some of these kids, music – and specifically the ukulele – is the one thing that they can do, the one thing they can take ownership of,” says Epstein in an interview. “The UKC really goes above and beyond; they’re here for the right reasons. They’re here because they’re invested in us and our patients and in our families, and they truly want to make a difference.

A recent report by Terry Bulger of WSMV-TV of Nashville, Tennessee explored the ukulele’s power to influence healing, especially for hospitalized children. Because it’s easy to play and hold, Bulger reports, the ukulele can “make a substantial difference in a child’s day, just by improving his or her mood.” As music therapist Kelsey Lowds says, hospitals are unfamiliar places, and they can be very scary, particularly for children. By bringing in instruments like the ukulele, unfamiliar places become more familiar.

“It’s easy, and it’s fun,” Bulger says; “Two things hospitalized children don’t see much in their daily medical setting. Music in their hands can change attitude, boost confidence, increase motivation. All those things wholeheartedly doctor approved.”

As of the beginning of July 2017, Bulger reports, 3,000 ukuleles had been donated to kids all over America. The Ukulele Kids Club has been so successful that it has expanded: Ukulele Kids Club UK is working hard to get instruments into the hands of hospitalized children throughout the United Kingdom. There, ukuleles are enjoying a warm reception: a report in the Evening Times mentions some top medical benefits of music in a hospital setting. Taking part in music therapy, the report says, can aid in reducing depression and anxiety, plus it can help decrease the amount of time needed for recovery, even in very serious cases.

The list of hospitals participating in the Ukulele Kids Club and Ukulele Kids Club UK keeps on growing, making the Ukulele Kids Club mission a reality: Giving ukuleles to hospitalized children via music therapy programs takes advantage of music’s power to heal, and it empowers kids to take some control over their own lives while giving them the incredible gift of musicianship – something that can last a lifetime.

Join the Ukulele Kids Club: You Can Make a Difference

Ukuleles are inexpensive – a decent soprano sized uke costs about $40, and that typically includes charges associated with shipping and handling. Donations to the Ukulele Kids Club are tax-deductible, and it’s possible to honor others by donating in their name. Donors can gift any amount they’d like to – even a small donation of one dollar will be gladly accepted and put to great use, changing children’s lives one cheerful ukulele note at a time.

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