Good News: Young violinist brings happiness to residents of Clearbrook homes
Justin Coleman, 13, of Arlington Heights only learned to play the violin three years ago. But he has mastered the instrument so quickly that last fall, he auditioned and was accepted into an elite chamber orchestra at MacArthur Middle School in Prospect Heights.
Its mission is for students to share their music outside the band room walls, out in the community for a variety of local and municipal groups.
Enter the upside down world of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. Justin still practices with the orchestra through a video conferencing app, but performing out in the community is on hold.
Or so he thought. For the past several weeks, Justin has played his violin -- alone -- for adults with disabilities, who live at some of Clearbrook's group homes. So far, he has played out in front of homes in Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect and Palatine.
"I've been trying to play songs that I know, that are upbeat," Justin says of some of his pop selections.
They range from Katy Perry's "Firework" to "Nightrider" by the Electric Light Orchestra, to "Lion's Pride," from the World of Warcraft video game.
"I start out by introducing the song and the composer," Justin says. "I usually play around 30 minutes. If I can tell that they really like it, then I play a little more. It just makes me happy seeing all the people listening to music."
Admittedly, Justin had an in. His mother, Ilene Rosenberg, serves as director of Clearbrook's community employment services. Consequently, she knew how to reach the staff at each home and obtain permission for him to perform.
Justin also needed to complete a mitzvah project for his bar mitzvah, which would have taken place this month in front of Congregation Beth Am members in Buffalo Grove. When he had to scrap his original idea of playing with classmates at area nursing homes, he decided playing for Clearbrook residents -- from afar -- sounded good.
His orchestra director, Jonathan Boyer, was not surprised. He described Justin as a talented and dedicated student, and he was thrilled he was sharing his music with others.
"It takes a lot of confidence to play your instrument in front of people, especially on your own, but I am not surprised by Justin's desire and ability to do this for the residents of Clearbrook homes," said Boyer, who teaches orchestra to students in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23.
"I strive to teach my students to be independent musicians," he added, "and I certainly encourage students to play as much as possible in and out of school."
Clearbrook is the largest provider of home-based services in the state. The agency supports more than 8,000 individuals and their families, including those who live in the 50 group homes like those where Justin played.
Admittedly, protecting the residents and staff from COVID-19, has been challenging. Tony Di Vittorio, president and CEO of Clearbrook, talked about some of the issues facing the organization on a recent radio show.
"We deal with vulnerable people, and we're focused on keeping them healthy and safe," Di Vittorio said on the Dolly McCarthy show earlier this month.
He described purchasing iPads for each of the group homes so that residents could visit with family members through video conferencing.
"We're trying to keep their world as big as we can," Di Vittorio said, "and keep their lives full and meaningful."
Staff members have come up with a variety of ways to keep residents engaged while they shelter at home and are unable to have family members visit. Their efforts even drew a shout-out from Gov. J.B. Pritzker last month during one of his daily briefings.
"Look at the creativity that people have brought to make sure that those in need are truly cared for, like the Clearbrook organization in Arlington Heights," Pritzker said, before citing a few examples.
He didn't mention Justin playing his violin, but Clearbrook staff and their residents appreciate the impromptu concerts.
Jan Lundal of Schaumburg asked her daughter, Kristin, about the music. Kristin lives with several adult women at a home in Mount Prospect.
"Her vocabulary skills are limited but I know she liked it," Lundal said. "I just think Clearbrook is doing a phenomenal job of keeping the clients safe and content."