Emory Report
December 10, 2007
Volume 60, Number 14

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December 10, 2007
Songs for Kids makes hospitals rock

By carol clark

When Josh Rifkind ’95C was growing up in Manhattan, he was terrified of needles, tubes and hospitals. “My father was a trauma surgeon,” he says, “and these medical magazines would come to the house with horrifying pictures of open-heart surgery on the cover. I was so afraid of seeing those images.”

Rifkind graduated from Emory in 1995 with a degree in sociology and stayed in Atlanta to build a career as a music manager and promoter. In January, he used his music network to launch a charity called the Songs for Kids Foundation, which brings musicians to pediatric hospitals and to camps for children with chronic illnesses, where they perform and record with the kids.

“I usually go with them and perform, too, just because it’s so much fun,” says Rifkind, who has overcome his fear of hospitals by bringing joy to young patients.

At a November performance for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, Rifkind strummed away on his guitar, leading the kids through the usual repertoire of songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus,” when 5-year-old Brady Cole took the stage. He wore leg braces, a catheter, and was attached by needles to some kind of machine, Rifkind recalls.

“He had to be helped up so he didn’t trip over all the tubes coming out of him. He’s clearly going through a lot, but he just got up on stage, took the microphone and started jamming, dancing and singing. He wasn’t thinking about the tubes in his body, he was just rocking out to the song. These kids are cool, hip and incredibly brave,” Rifkind says.

A health care worker at another facility informed Rifkind that a 14-year-old girl, who had just undergone a bone marrow transplant, loves the Georgia R&B group B5. Rifkind brought all five of the young male band members to the hospital. “They put on gloves, masks and gowns to go into the isolation unit to see her,” he says. “It lifted her spirits immensely to have her favorite band walk into her room.”

Rifkind also arranges for musicians and recording engineers to visit children undergoing kidney dialysis. “The kids can sing along and record a song while they’re having dialysis,” he says. “We can burn a CD for them at their bedside.”

In May, Rifkind brought together 1,500 musicians for what he called “500 Songs for Kids,” a 10-day event which raised $20,000 for pediatric charities.

“I’m lucky to have such a wide network of people who are willing to give their time free,” Rifkind says, adding that the musicians who volunteer end up thanking him because they enjoy the experience so much.

The response to Songs for Kids has been overwhelmingly positive and Rifkind hopes to expand the program in 2008 to include adult patients in Emory hospitals.

“When you’re younger, your dream is to be someone with a lot of money, but the older you get, the more you realize that it’s better to contribute something to the world,” Rifkind says. His main paying gig is managing the rising Athens rock band “The Whigs,” but he has worked for free to build Songs for Kids.

“It’s been economically challenging but emotionally rewarding,” he says. “This has been probably the best year of my life and it’s been almost all focused on giving. I feel very blessed.”

Learn more at www.songsforkidsfoundation.org.