THE CHANCE TO SERVE FIVE QUESTIONS WITH HEALING ARTS PROJECT LEADER ABBY POWELL

Sing for Hope’s Volunteer Artist Roster is the fuel that drives our engine of arts advocacy. Without our volunteers, we could not pursue our mission to bring the transformative power of the arts wherever it is needed most.

Soprano Abby Powell, Sing for Hope Project Leader at Coler Hospital. (Photo Credit: Kasia Pilewicz)

We know few artists more dedicated to sharing their time and talent with underserved communities than soprano ABBY POWELL. A longtime Roster member, Abby has set the standard for compassionate service in both our Healing Arts and Youth Arts programming.

We’recently asked Abby to reflect on her current role as Project Leader at Coler Hospital, a specialty care and nursing facility on Roosevelt Island. Most Coler patients are receiving extended care, and many are experiencing some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Here is their conversation:

Sing for Hope: How do patients feel about being visited at their bedsides by a singer?

Abby: Patients at Coler LOVE singers. They often sing along. Sometimes, even patients who do not speak on a regular basis sing along, which is particularly rewarding to witness. It is absolutely uplifting to everyone in the room!

Sing for Hope: How would you describe the experience of being a Project Leader?

Abby performs for a patient with Sing for Hope’s Youth Chorus. (Photo Credit: Rachel Benichak)

Abby: It’s the chance to offer kindness and love to those in circumstances that are often beyond our realm of understanding. It’s a great responsibility, but an even greater privilege. We Volunteer Artists need to bring the very best parts of ourselves to the patient. I don’t mean simply our best talents as ,artists — I mean as people. I discovered almost immediately that I was able to dig much deeper into myself than I thought was possible. I was able to offer more than simply the music. I discovered a kind of selfless love inside myself, a kindness that I didn’t know I had. And I discovered that I could channel it through my given art form, vocal music. Being a Project Leader is a gift.

Sing for Hope: Why is Coler Hospital so special to you?

Abby: Oh, for so many reasons. It’s different than most other hospitals I’ve volunteered at because many patients have been there for months or years — it really is a residence and community. I’ve been able to build cherished relationships with some patients at Coler who I’ve seen regularly over the years. Like the Domino Boys!

Sing for Hope: The Domino Boys!?

Abby: This is a group of gentleman whom I sing for every two weeks — I like to call them the Domino Boys because, as you might have guessed, they’re always playing dominos when I stop by! I’m proud to tell you that one could be a drummer in my band any day of the week, the way his hands keeps time to my up-tempo songs.

The Coler staff is also particularly inspiring. Just think what it would feel like to be in a facility with no access to theater, opera, Broadway shows, the ballet, the symphony, museums or galleries… Coler’s extremely dedicated occupational therapy team strives to bring the arts directly to the residents. The patients have made some visual art that blows me out of the water.

Sing for Hope: Some potential Volunteer Artists might think getting to Roosevelt Island is difficult. Is it?

Abby: It’s a common misconception that Roosevelt Island is far away. Actually, the commute is not much different than visiting Midtown East! Hop on the F train, and once you’re there, two different buses can shuttle you steps away from the hospital. It’s actually a lovely walk from the subway stop, too. There are beautiful views of the Manhattan Skyline that you can only see from Roosevelt Island!

Sing for Hope: Do you have an all-time favorite memory you’d like to share?

Abby: My favorite memory is of a patient (we’ll call her Ms. M — I won’t violate HIPAA!) Ms. M is in her late eighties, maybe early nineties. She cannot walk, she cannot speak, she can barely see. She sits sedentary in her wheelchair most of the day. But what most people don’t know about Ms. M on first meeting her? She’s like a flower who is missing the sunshine — and the sunshine for Ms. M is music. I sit beside her, I sing her favorite tunes, and this woman who can barely see radiates a gigantic smile with her eyes, with her entire being. She just beams from within. She’s silent, but I know she is singing along in her own way. She thanks me at the end with her body language. But I’m the one who is really grateful to Ms. M, because without fail she gives me the answer to that question all artists ask themselves from time to time: Why do I do this, this crazy singing thing? Why do I need to be an artist? With those beaming eyes Ms. M reminds me that I’m an artist because it makes me more alive, because sharing it with others makes them more alive. She reminds me never, ever to take music for granted.

Sing for Hope Director of Healing Arts Rachel Benichak with the Coler community. (Photo Credit: Shawn Hoke)

Sing for Hope: Such a beautiful story, Abby. I want to thank you again for all your years of service to Sing for Hope.
Abby: It’s truly a pleasure. Thank you for giving me the chance to serve.

Interested in becoming one of Sing for Hope’s talented and caring Project Leaders? Click HERE to learn more, or email volunteer (at) singforhope.org.

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