If you are familiar with our story, you know we like to say Songs & Smiles started as a birthday party. But we might also say that the first Songs & Smiles event — and our entire organization — started with a choice about facing Alzheimer’s.
People facing Alzheimer’s – those living with the disease and those caring for them — have a choice. The first option is popular and arguably much easier. That’s the choice in favor of facing Alzheimer’s with fear and despair. The second option can seem harder, at least at first. That’s the choice in favor of facing Alzheimer’s with joy.
Songs & Smiles started with a decision in favor of facing Alzheimer’s with joy.
Decide in Favor of Joy
By 2017, Alzheimer’s had stolen much from Trish and her family. Thankfully, she was generally healthy, at least physically. Mentally, she was very different than she had been. We couldn’t talk with her like we used to, and she couldn’t do many things on her own.
In fact, we knew if we planned any kind of party for Trish’s birthday, she wouldn’t remember it the next day. In other words, it would have been easy for us to to skip the party. We could have given in to despair and told ourselves it would be pointless to make any plans.
Instead, we decided to throw a big party. We decided in favor of joy.
Add Songs and Smiles
The first thing we did after deciding to throw a big party was to “invite everyone.” Whenever Sheryl planned a party for her mom, Trish would always say she wanted to “invite everyone.” That meant the whole family, of course, but it also meant in-laws, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and any other honorary family members.
Next, we lined up the songs and the smiles.
The songs came courtesy of our nieces and nephews. We asked our niece Mary and nephews John, David, and Jimmy if they would play some music for their grandma. It had been almost two years since the four had performed together as the Meyerband, but they agreed to “get the band back together.”
The smiles were supplied by Fish Sticks, an improv comedy troupe specializing in family-friendly shows. Sheryl and I had seen them perform several times, and we thought our whole family would enjoy the interactive show.
Well, we had already invited the whole family, including some relations we hadn’t seen in years. We were expecting about 50 relatives to be in town for the weekend. In Texas. In July. So, Sheryl started looking for a good air-conditioned place where we could hang out and “the kids could run around.” She found and booked the perfect spot not far from where we lived at the time — the Grand Hall at NRH Centre in North Richland Hills, Texas.
So, now we had a big venue and some great entertainment. We wondered if some other people might enjoy the show. We thought about extending the invitation to our neighbors. We thought about asking our co-workers.
Then, we thought about literally inviting everyone … and that’s what we did. We decided our Sunday afternoon show would be open to the public, and we would use the event to try and raise a little money for the Alzheimer’s Association.
We decided to call the event Songs & Smiles. I asked my co-worker Ron to design a logo for us. I guess that makes Ron our first official volunteer, at least other than me and Sheryl. When Ron presented his design to me, he had it mocked up on a T-shirt, and I told him I didn’t think we were doing T-shirts. Turns out, I needed to think bigger.
When Sheryl asked me to help invite everyone, I thought I would write a few emails. Turns out, I needed to think bigger. We quickly had thousands of glossy flyers, thanks to our friend John, who is now on our team as a member of our board of directors. Soon we also had Songs & Smiles stationery, too, and Sheryl sent letters to hundreds of people, including everyone in our neighborhood. Next thing I knew, we also had a website, a Facebook page, and Instagram and Twitter accounts.
When Sheryl asked me what amount we should set as our donation goal, I was considering about $1,000. I guessed she was thinking higher, so I said $2,000. She was thinking higher, and we set our initial fundraising goal at $10,000. Turns out, I needed to think bigger. Our little event eventually raised more than $20,000 in donations.
Now I’m thinking bigger. When people come together to help others, tremendous things can happen. Inspired people working together can impact the world.
Connect With Joy
The Songs & Smiles name refers, of course, to the music and comedy entertainment we showcased at our first event. But from the start, the name expressed so much more to us and those around us.
The Songs & Smiles name and the logo resonated with people, especially in its relation to the cause. Songs & Smiles by itself doesn’t mean that much, but pairing that name with Alzheimer’s encourages a positive and courageous response to the disease.
The name and, in fact, the entire first event, created a comfortable environment for people to ask questions and learn more about a deadly disease and the challenges of caregiving. At the first Songs & Smiles event, people stood together, facing Alzheimer’s with songs and smiles and joy.
Songs & Smiles stands for joy. Music lifts our spirits. Smiles brighten our days. Singing and smiling always bring us closer to joy. Often, our joy is expressed directly by songs and smiles.
Songs & Smiles stands for meaningful connections. When someone you love has Alzheimer’s, it’s difficult to connect with them. Normal rules of conversation no longer apply. Songs and smiles are powerful connectors. When people sing songs together, they unite thoughts, emotions, and memories. When people share smiles with each other, they share affirmation, encouragement, and love.
Join Us on This Journey
We started the Songs & Smiles journey with a decision to celebrate a birthday, a decision in favor of joy. We added some songs and smiles, invited others to join us, started to think bigger, and started to discover what it meant to connect with joy.
As Sheryl and I cared for Trish, we continued to make decisions in favor of facing Alzheimer’s with joy. As we looked for new ways to relate, we learned to add more songs and smiles. We invited friends and family to join us on the journey, and we started to think bigger, letting go of smaller worries to spend more energy on more significant matters, such as cherishing time with family. Together, we were learning to connect with joy.
Today, we continue to decide in favor of joy. That’s why we turned Songs & Smiles into a nonprofit corporation, and that’s why we continue to share songs and smiles with people who have Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. We’re inviting others to get involved with us, encouraging people to care for caregivers.
We are thinking bigger, planning to positively impact people across the country and around the world. With your help, we will encourage and support families navigating the challenges of caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. Together, we will continue facing the disease with songs, smiles, and joy.