Finding a way to help people is always a nice idea. Occasionally that idea can even become a noble one, especially when it involves helping those who need it the most––like children who live with challenges. The Environment of People Foundation (EOPF), launched in 2000 as a non-profit charitable organization, was set up to do just that.
Founded by EOPF president Dennis Dreith and Board of Directors member Shari Hoffman, the goal of the Foundation is to help and support children with disabilities by ensuring that music is a central part of their lives and growth. Indeed, EOPF uses the power of music to nurture and heal.
Both Dreith and Hoffman are intimately familiar with music and its effect on people. They began their careers as artists, and continue to write and perform as creative talents today. They’re also executives at AFM & SAG-AFTRA where they help recording artists collect royalties and funds due them. In fact, it was Dreith’s work on behalf of recording artists that spawned the idea.
“I was in Japan to negotiate an agreement concerning recording musicians,” Dreith recalls. “But they wanted to produce a concert for children with disabilities before we conducted business.” Dreith discovered that the Japanese prefer to befriend you before doing business and that the request was culturally based. As it turned out, he says, “The experience was so profound, I wanted to do the same in the United States.”
He told Hoffman about it, and together they formed a brain trust that led to the formation of the Environment of People Foundation. “I was already familiar with the power of music,” Hoffman relates. “While in New York I saw how it changed lives when Roberta Guaspari founded the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music for at-risk students (the subject of a 1999 feature film Music of the Heart starring Meryl Streep). “I also saw how music and even simple drum rhythms affected children, who were close to a vegetative state, in a positive and inspiring way.”
Accordingly, Dreith and Hoffman began looking for programs that would not only benefit from the Foundation’s mission, but would also help to fulfill it. As a result, over the past 15 years EOPF has presented fundraising initiatives for programs such as the Opus 118 East Harlem Violin Program, Nordoff-Robbins (a creative music therapy innovation) and, most recently, The Music Therapy Wellness Clinic at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).
The CSUN Clinic is especially close to the Foundation’s heart, since it provides specially designed music activities for children and adults with disabilities and challenges (e.g. autism, developmental delay, physical, mental and emotional disorders and learning disabilities). The Clinic is dedicated to creating an environment where someone with challenges can acquire necessary life skills through the unique and enjoyable medium of music. With the help of music therapists at CSUN’s Music Therapy Clinic, children who have been diagnosed with Autism, Down syndrome and other challenges begin to understand––through the medium of music––the simple act of responding to someone.
Music therapy is not new or unproven. It is an ancient method for healing. Music neutralizes negative feelings, increases stress tolerance levels and harmonizes inner peace. Indeed, it is an established form of creative art therapy that has proven beneficial in activating and supporting mental and psycho-physical recovery. Several scientific reviews have shown the positive effects of music therapy in different clinical and therapeutic settings, with recent research clearly indicating that music therapy can help to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
And that is exactly what EOPF intends to do. This year, the Foundation is presenting its sixth annual New York in Hollywood fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 4, at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, CA. The event will be held on the “New York Street” back lot. This family-friendly affair, co-hosted by Laura San Giacomo (Saving Grace, Shoot Me, Pretty Woman, Sex, Lies, and Videotape) and James Pickens Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy, The X-Files), will feature a celebrity red carpet, a silent auction, top musical acts and a special appearance from The Sunshine Singers, the performance group of the CSUN Music Therapy Wellness Clinic program. This fundraiser promises to be a spectacular day of activities for kids of all ages, and will offer an exciting opportunity to be connected with a most worthwhile cause.
Worthwhile, indeed… Both Dennis Dreith and Shari Hoffman have not only dedicated a significant portion of their lives to this worthy cause, they have also reaped tangible rewards by doing so. “When we hand a check over and see all the kids smile and feel the affection they give back to us,” Dreith reveals, “I get way more out of it than I give.” Hoffman concurs, “Working on this project is just a joy. It warms my heart.”
By Bernard Baur