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Playing their song: Careity Rocks and Sonny Burgess give cancer patients a voice

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Careity Rocks

Careity Rocks will take place Tuesday, Sept. 20, at Cendera Center, 3600 Benbrook Highway, Fort Worth. One dinner ticket to Careity Rocks is $125.

www.careity.org

Child Life Zone

www.cookchildrens.org

There is healing in the hopeful sound of children singing, and the Fort Worth-based Careity Foundation’s three-year-old Careity Rocks event hopes to use that appeal to find ways to heal children with serious and life-threatening illnesses.

Careity Rocks literally provides a stage for young patients at Cook Children’s Hospital to show off the singing, instrumental and performing skills they pick up through a special music therapy program in a recording studio that is part of the hospital’s Child Life Zone activity area.

Patrons of Careity Rocks support the Careity Children’s Cancer Fund and Palliative Care via sponsorships, ticket sales and an auction.

“It’s been absolutely incredible,” Careity co-founder Lyn Walsh said of the Careity Rocks shows. She founded the Careity Foundation 22 years ago with Beverly Branch. Before the music recording and performing program was developed, Careity sponsored a fundraising Western fashion show, Branded.

The children audition for the show, Walsh said, and five are selected to perform for the 400 guests. The performers range in age from 3 to 18, and each one gets a standing ovation.

And no wonder. These budding George Straits and Patsy Clines have had guidance from an industry professional and longtime friend of Careity, Sonny Burgess.

As a traditional country music artist, Cleburne native Burgess knows a thing or two about recording, and about performing onstage.

Burgess is well-known around Fort Worth and in demand for performance dates. He is a Country Music Association award winner, hosted the Nashville Fan Fair/CMA Music Festival, played the Grand Ole Opry and is a member of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

His catalog of albums includes When In Texas, Stronger, Have You Got A Song Like That and his newest addition, All About The Ride. His hit songs include Cowboy Cool, The More I’m Around Some People (The More I Like My Dog), Jesus and Bartenders and, from his latest release, Dang Good Thing.

His musical talents are evident. Less obvious may be one of Burgess’ greatest talents: He knows how to distract childhood cancer patients from weeks of chemotherapy and surgeries.

“We want to get them out of their rooms, and the doctors say they use less pain medications when they have something to do,” Burgess said.

At Cook Children’s Hospital, Burgess is a full-time music therapist, helping hospitalized children to record music and audio for their families in Cook’s Child Life Zone.

“It’s a team room, with a library, a cooking area, a recording studio (donated by Troy

Aikman and Garth Brooks). It’s like stepping into L.A. or Nashville,” Burgess said.

“People can walk by and see what we’re doing. They kids can play piano, drums, the ukulele,” he said. “We teach them guitar, and how to write songs.”

On any given day, Burgess said, participation varies from as few as five to as many as 20 students. Many just stop in for a few minutes, others come in on referrals from doctors and nursing staff.

“I guess all the years of me being a musician, I can get a read on what these kids and families want,” he said.

Burgess was recently honored with the Humanitarian Award from the Texas Regional Radio & Music Association for his work at Cook Children’s Hospital. He stresses that it’s not playacting; the children approach his recording projects as would-be music professionals.

“We give the kids here that experience, like any artist out there,” Burgess said. “Even the outpatients are excited to come back and record a little bit when they’re here to get scans.”

Burgess had been volunteering at Cook Children’s for years and then, he said, “all the angels lined up” for the program’s genesis in November of 2010. It took three years to develop the Child Life Zone recording studio.

Burgess started working with patients full time three years ago but stays active on the music scene.

“I still sing with my band, do enough shows to rub shoulders with other artists and tell them what we’re doing,” he said. “We did a show with Paul Overstreet last night [Sept. 13] with the Children’s Miracle Network.”

Burgess is also involved in staging special Christmas shows at Cook Children’s. Other artists who have participated in recent years include B.J. Thomas, Pat Green, Luke Wade, Randy Travis, Neal McCoy, and Charley Pride. The party includes room visits for children who can’t make the party.

The Careity Rocks show and Burgess’ therapy program also help to provide closure for friends and family of children who don’t make it home; families are given their child’s recordings and a video of their performances and recording sessions.

One of last year’s show performers has passed away, Walsh said, and a tribute this year will include a song written and performed by one of the child’s friends.

A video of the song is currently on Careity’s website.

Careity Foundation also works to help adult cancer patients in a completely separate program.

“We work with all hospitals and physicians,” Walsh said, “We strongly believe that the funds we raise should go to help patients.”

The foundation picks up expenses not typically covered by insurance and health plans and the foundation’s six-person staff at the Careity Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders works with patients to coordinate services from diagnosis through surgery and treatment.

“We’re very involved with every patient’s journey, every step of the way,” Walsh said. .

“We do save lives,” Walsh said. “There are people out there who don’t want to know they have cancer because they can’t afford it.

“That makes it where we can’t stop what we’re doing.”

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