Music to Our Ears

Giving to those who fill our world with sound

By Sue Baldani

Music adds an extra layer of joy to the background of our lives, whether it’s while we’re driving in a car singing along to the radio, looking for that extra boost while exercising, dancing with friends at a party or club, or just hanging out at home. The lyrical sound of vocals and the rhythmic thrum of instruments enters through our ears and fills our souls. Whether soft and melodic or hardcore metal, life just would not be the same without music.

MusiCares® makes sure that the people behind this magic are able to live their best lives. “MusiCares is the leading music industry charity; helping the humans behind the music because music gives so much to the world,” says Debbie Carroll, a Nashville native and vice president, health and human services. “MusiCares was established in 1989 by the Recording Academy to provide a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. We provide a variety of health and human services and focus our attention on the human service issues that directly impact the health and well-being of the music community.” 

Whether these needs are monetary or pertain to mental or physical health, addiction recovery, hearing loss, or other issues, MusiCares can help. As of today, it’s served over 200,000 people in the music industry who have reached out for assistance.

“As the pandemic continues to keep venues closed, cancelling music festivals including Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival and Bonnaroo, it’s clear music people need our support now more than ever,” says Debbie. “MusiCares had to quickly determine what music people needed most, which is why we established our COVID-19 relief efforts in partnership with the Recording Academy. We’re honored and humbled by the support we’ve received, allowing us to distribute more than $22 million to more than 24,000 music people across the industry since March 2020.”

The organization relies on donors to fulfill its mission, and is hosting Music on a Mission, a virtual event that will honor the immeasurable number of music industry professionals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’ll be held on Friday, March 12, two nights prior to the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards® telecast. Tickets are available on its website and all sales will go to support MusiCares, and its COVID-19 Relief response.

“The Music on a Mission virtual event will feature never-before-seen interviews with musicians, live and virtual performances from artists like H.E.R., HAIM, John Legend and Lady Gaga, plus previously unaired performances from Person of the Year tributes to Dolly Parton, Aerosmith, and others,” she says.

If you or someone you know in the music industry is in need of financial or other types of support services, reach out to MusiCares for the help it so generously offers. Songwriters, musicians, engineers, producers, bus drivers, crew, guitar techs, label employees, make-up artists, and beyond are all eligible.

“Additionally, we have a list of COVID-19 relief online resources, which now includes a food insecurity hotline (1-800-5HUNGRY) and Find Food search with WhyHunger,” says Debbie.

A 73-year-old singer and songwriter said the following about the assistance received from MusiCares: “Such a relief. I have managed to make it through the month, [with] ‘gleaning’ and food stamps. Was about to sell a treasured guitar for far too little…So grateful. Crying with gratitude.”  Another artist wrote: “Dear MusiCares, I received an unexpected love offering this year from your grant program, and I wanted to let you know how much it meant to me. I, as a touring musician, am so happy that there are agencies out there supporting the arts in these darkest of times. Happy 2021. My soul wears a smile as wide as the Pacific Ocean.”

To find out more, volunteer, or provide financial support to this worthwhile organization, go to Help those who share their talents and make our lives more memorable and joyful, and let’s keep the music playing. After all, how quiet and less meaningful our world would be without it.

Written for Belle Meade Lifestyle magazine in Belle Meade, Tennessee.

Cheers to Your Health

A toast to organic wines and liquors

By Sue Baldani

Organic produce and meats have been in high demand for years, and now consumers are looking to extend those healthy benefits into their glasses of wine. Eco-friendly wines, those produced without the use of pesticides in vineyards that use sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, are thought to be not only better for you, but better tasting as well.

“Eco-friendly wines have a technical component to them, but it’s more of a philosophical piece, which is to get to know where your wine, your product, comes from,” says Dan Dinelli, one of the owners of Cambridge Wines, with stores in Summit and Morristown, NJ.

“Alcohol is a highly-lobbied industry and there’s technically, I think, about 200 or more additives that are allowed in a bottle of wine.” Many of these natural wines are hand-harvested, have no additives or yeasts, and little or no added sulfites. And headaches, he says, come from these fillers, not the sulfites, as many believe.

Dan and his partners, cousin Anthony Dinelli and friend David Bernat, like to educate customers about wine. Roommates in their younger years, they lived on Cambridge Avenue in the Bronx, hence the name of the store. “We have a very lighthearted way of working with people. That’s in our DNA.”

He says when it comes to wine, they’re just like everyone else. “We drink wine, we enjoy wine, but the more we know about it, the more fun this journey becomes.”

Dan says he and his partners grew up with wine in their homes. “We’re Italian. It was always an extension of the dinner table – we’re bonding, we’re breaking bread, and it doesn’t need to be fancy.”

Quality can be found at every price point, he says, and they try as much wine as they can before they carry it. “We try a lot of bad wines so our customers don’t have to.”

But, Dan and his partners also want high-end wines and liquors to be approachable for those who would like to experience them. In the Summit store, these bottles can be found in what they call the Cellar. “Most places have it locked up or put away and it’s almost like taboo to touch it unless you’re super wealthy. But we want people to see what a $3000 dollar bottle looks like.”

Speaking of wine cellars, their Cellar Management Services helps wine enthusiasts manage their own private collections. “We handle the restocking, the organizing, and the upkeep, whether it’s as little as an in-home wine cooler to a thousand bottle wine cellar.”

Cambridge Wines also offers same-day delivery, a free loyalty program where shoppers can leverage points from previous shopping trips for perks, and multi-level paid membership programs. With paid membership, customers receive two wines every month or a selection of beer, and have access to special incentives, such as discounts.

The store also does Cases for a Cause, where the profits of sales get donated to whatever charity is chosen. “It’s a fun way of generating revenue for nonprofits – leveraging wine tasting to raise money.”

Start your own curated collection of eco-friendly wines today and enjoy them while spending time with family and friends. Make every day and every meal a special occasion. Cheers!

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

National EMS Week

Honoring the people who answer the call

May 18, 2021, Scotch Plains, NJ  – May 17th through May 22nd is National EMS Week, which was instituted in 1974 by President Gerald Ford. It’s a time to recognize and celebrate EMS practitioners and the important services they provide to our nation’s communities. This past year has made that more apparent than ever.

Dealing with COVID-19 has pushed many in the industry to the brink of despair and exhaustion, but even so, they continue to answer the call. The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad (SPRS) is fortunate to have EMTs who put their own safety concerns aside to help their neighbors in need. Over the past year, there’s actually been an influx of applicants who wanted to join in the fight against this deadly pandemic, and the squad is thankful for this additional help.  

During the worst days of the COVID-19 crisis, residents and business owners often showed their gratitude by delivering meals to the EMTs on duty. This outpouring of appreciation made a meaningful impact on all those serving.

In its 84th year of service, this life-saving organization’s volunteers are proud to be here for the community of Scotch Plains and surrounding towns, handling all types of emergency calls. New members are always welcome to assist with calls, as well as standbys at high school football games, summer concerts on the Village Green, Scotch Plains Day, and other community events. In addition, squad members provide demonstrations for Boy and Girl Scout troops, clubs, and any other groups that may be interested in learning about what the squad does.

For more information, or to volunteer or donate, please go to or call (908) 322-2103 (for non-emergencies).

Contributing Author:  Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Life in Pictures

Teaching kids with special needs photography skills

By Sue Baldani

When Jen Vogus’s son, Aidan, who is non-verbal, started kindergarten, she wanted to make sure the other children were able to get to know him. So, she came up with the idea of taking and captioning pictures of him doing things he liked and sharing them with his teacher and the class.

“The pictures were a way for others to see that Aidan is more like them than he is different from them,” says Jen, the founder and executive director of AbleVoices in Nashville. “It worked out really well for our particular situation and we were able to sustain it over many years.”

While on the board of directors for the Arc of Williamson County in 2014, she wanted to use her skills in teaching and photography to help others with disabilities. She had learned that the Arc occasionally put together a visual resume, or portfolio, for students aged 18 to 22 who had earned a special-education diploma in Williamson County schools and were currently enrolled in a four-year vocational based transition program. These portfolios included pictures of them at various job sites to show potential employers the types of job skills they had.

“I said to Sharon Bottorff, the executive director, ‘What do you think about doing a workshop teaching these young adults how to take better pictures so they’re better able to tell their stories?’”

Shortly after, Jen started teaching semester-long workshops, and in 2018, she decided to expand the curriculum. She implemented a methodology called Photovoice, which, she explains, provides cameras to any group that is underrepresented or that wants to share its views about a particular issue.

Many of the young adults really enjoyed these photography classes and wanted to keep them going, so she developed a photography club the following summer. In 2019, wanting to expand even more, she felt it was time to form her own nonprofit organization. And so, AbleVoices was born.

“I work with Marie Wicks, who is the Williamson County Schools transitional program coordinator,” says Jen. “She sets me up with a classroom and a teacher, and there are typically between nine and 17 students per semester.”

Since COVID-19 shut them down in March, she found a way to continue some of the classes virtually. “Last summer, I did a few with some young adults that weren’t able to leave the house because of COVID, and I did a summer-long outdoor photography club in person.”

Recently, she’s started a virtual Photography for Self-Expression course. “I provide videos that teaches them a photography tip, and we have a photo mission every week,” she says. “The pictures can just stir up emotions and memories and experiences that are all different to each person. So, it’s a really wonderful way to gain insight about our participants.”

The students get to show off their pictures in the lobby of the Williamson County Community Services Building, where Arc is located. “It’s just so awesome and so rewarding to see the skills they’ve learned. And it also gives them a sense of importance, as in, ‘This is my camera, and I’m a photographer.’”

Right now, Jen is applying for more grants to expand the amount of programs she can provide in the schools, and make the photography club, which does have a fee, more affordable for families. Donations are very helpful in making this a reality.

“It’s been really exciting for me, and it’s something I really believe in,” she says. “It’s been a lot of fun to see these young adults be able to express themselves visually through their images and provide them with another way to share about themselves with the world.”

Today, Aidan has graduated from high school and is in his first year of the transition program with Williamson County Schools. Even though he is now more interested in going on Instagram and doing other age-appropriate activities, his mother’s desire to help others tell their stories through pictures lives on.

To find out more about AbleVoices, or to buy merchandise from its online store or donate to this worthwhile organization, go to

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Finding Cures. Saving Children

Support the Topeka St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway campaign

By Sue Baldani

More than fifteen years after losing his young son Daegan to acute myeloid leukemia, Lance, from Kansas, is still a strong supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. After undergoing a failed bone marrow transplant procedure, Daegan was transferred to St. Jude, and thanks to an experimental treatment, he was given a precious extra year of life.

“A year is not a long time, except when you measure a child’s life at 4 ½ years; a year is a fourth of their life,” says Lance. “Up until the very end, it was a pretty good quality of life.”

During this time, the little boy with the infectious personality that captured people’s hearts was able to do some of the activities he enjoyed most. Daegan loved Thomas the Train, and he was able to take a ride on Thomas. He also wanted, among other things, to go up in a helicopter and ride on a golf cart, and he was able to do it all.

While on the St. Jude campus in Memphis, Lance remembers seeing all the research buildings. “Their lights were on at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning. They literally don’t stop. If they can do that, then I can do whatever I can do.

“[St. Jude] shares [protocols and treatments] with everybody, and it’s not just cancer,” says Lance. “They’re doing research on a lot of different things.” He can’t stress enough that even though the hospital is located in Memphis, by donating, you’re helping people in your local community as well.

For St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to be able to continue helping more children and their families, it’s critical to garner financial support. One way it does this is through its St. Jude Dream Home campaign. For a $100.00 ticket, participants in Topeka have a chance to win the St. Jude Dream Home in the Aquarian Acres neighborhood, as well as other prizes. In its fourth year in Topeka, the goal is to collectively raise $2.8 million by the time it wraps up in June.

Caroline and Kevin Gray, owners of Custom Wood Products, have been involved with the St. Jude Dream Home campaign every year in Topeka and for three years in Wichita.

“We’ve donated all of the cabinets for the kitchen, the bathrooms, laundry room, basement bar – anything that is interior, cabinet wise,” says Caroline. “It’s always great to be a part of something that is bigger than you.

“And I love the aspect that it brings competitors together. That’s really awesome! If an electrician can’t afford all the labor and all the product, maybe he’ll work with another electrician and one will do the product and one will do the labor.”

To support St. Jude in its mission, go to See other states that are participating as well.