BOWMANVILLE — A new nonprofit aims to help terminally ill children write songs to express themselves, music that can serve as their theme songs and, sadly, may be played at their funerals.
Two North Side women are behind The Song in Me, an effort they say will bring joy to sick children by giving them a creative way to express themselves by writing and recording songs that document their lives. Should the children lose their battle with their illnesses, the songs give their loved ones a precious, lasting memory.
So much of a child's life is "about playing and just being in the moment and expressing themselves creatively," said Rachel Epley, a music therapist who has worked with terminally ill children in hospice care. Through her work, she has seen how "when they're sick, that can be compromised."
"To be able to bring something that helps them express themselves and be vibrant is a gift in itself," said Epley who co-founded The Song in Me with her friend Barb Morgan-Browning.
Epley, a 36-year-old Old Town resident, and Morgan-Browning, 42, of Bowmanville, plan to launch a pilot program in January with the initial aim of working with 10 kids over a period of four to six weeks and producing radio-quality songs.
Epley, an Iowa native with a background in music performance and music therapy, said the songs she has made with terminally ill children boosted their emotional well-being and helped them cope with pain and stress. But they also "meant so much to families," who often play the songs at funerals when the child dies, she said.
The co-founders began taking applications from families interested in The Song in Me earlier this month. The first application was from parents whose 7-year-old son has leukemia.
"They're out of options," Epley said. "They have been told that this is it, that he is going to die, and there's nothing that can be done."
His family hopes that The Song in Me provides a "way to give him something special at the end of his life and create a memory and a song that his siblings can have forever," Epley said.
Epley and Morgan-Browning, who said Andersonville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Shepard has mentored them through the startup process and sits on their board, need to raise $80,000 to fund the first six months of the program.
They are holding a cocktail reception and silent auction from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at LillStreet Loft, 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave., to help raise money for their effort.
Epley helps the children write the songs and brings them into a studio to record the music.
The co-founders want to keep the program free because they didn't want to place any more stress on families already weighed down with medical costs.
"I am really tied to the idea of kids getting what they need regardless of where they are in life and what their parents can afford," Epley said.
Morgan-Browning, originally from Ohio, has started and sold multiple businesses, including a dog-walking business called Green Paws, and has worked as a social activist.
She knows firsthand the uplifting power of song.
Twenty-one weeks pregnant with her now 1-year-old son Isaiah, Morgan-Browning was having intense pain, and doctors told her she needed to have major surgery on her gallbladder that could threaten the baby. Isaiah survived the surgery, but was born a month early with underdeveloped lungs, jaundice and dangerously low blood-sugar levels. Isaiah was in and out of the hospital for a month and a half.
Epley wrote a song based on her friend's feelings about the pregnancy, "Baby Blue," about how Morgan-Browning and her baby are one, would always have a connection, and how she would always love him regardless of what happened.
The song was a comfort through her trials. She sang it to him the first time she saw him sick in the hospital, and sings it to him every night as she puts him to bed.
"I want other parents to be able to have that special song," Morgan-Browning said.