Giving the gift of the blues

Nonprofit provides instruments to children with challenges
By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 10, 2010
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle James Kennedy, 5, of Rockland tries out his new guitar on stage July 10 at the North Atlantic Blues Festival. Kennedy has been struggling with medical problems and received the guitar through the non-profit Raising The Blues.

Rockland — A nonprofit organization that provides instruments to children struggling with medical problems or special needs donated a guitar to a 5-year-old boy from Rockland July 10 at the North Atlantic Blues Festival.

James Kennedy of Rockland received the gift of an acoustic Martin guitar on the stage right after the first act at the festival.

Kennedy was diagnosed with leukemia in March, and though he is in remission, he has since been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as well, according to his mother, Crystal Kennedy of Rockland.

The guitar was donated by Raising The Blues Ltd., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that uses the blues and music to brighten the lives of children facing devastating illnesses and disabilities.

In addition to providing instruments and music lessons for children, the organization arranges for musicians to perform in children's hospitals, group homes, special education schools and summer camps for children with medical problems. Raising The Blues also works with Camp Sunshine in Casco.

The guitar was presented by Raising The Blues founder and Executive Director Ruth Atherton.

She said she met Kennedy during a visit to Maine Medical Center and learned he is from Rockland. During that visit, he tried all of the different instruments and had great rhythm. After trying them all, he decided he would love to get a guitar.

"I don't take life for granted," his mother said at the festival grounds July 10.

"The doctor said your life as you know it just changed," the boy's grandmother, Julie Bemis of Warren added.

Atherton said she was inspired to start the charity after her son Natan, now 4 years old, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. Fortunately, his illness could be successfully treated, but he had to spend some time in the hospital, she said.

She noticed during that ordeal that music reduced her child's fear. In the course of her organization's efforts to bring music to more children, she has seen that it also helps their families as well.

Raising The Blues had a booth at the festival where it gave out harmonicas in return for donations and showed off homemade cigar-box guitars.

"The kids in this program are so remarkable," she said. "They don't want people to feel sorry for them. They just want to be kids."

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