Colleen Bennett is changing lives one note at a time
Class of 1988
Colleen Bennett’s ’88 work is of the noblest you will find. Bennett’s mission is to provide free music therapy to as many children afflicted with serious disease as possible.
The interesting thing, though, is that Bennett doesn’t view it as a job at all.
“It’s not work at all; it really feels like a calling. As a kid, I always loved music and it’s always been my thing - seeing the expressions on the kids’ faces, you just see that love shine through. It’s hard to describe in words,” said Bennett.
While the tangible, more practical goal is to provide music therapy, Bennett’s true end goal is to create smiles and spread kindness through her work at the KEYS Program- the initiative which she and her husband founded.
“To really understand KEYS you have to experience KEYS. When you see those little faces light up and their response… from a child who’s alone in a room… they just light up when they see you play an instrument.”
This program that has created so many smiles arose from a tragic event. One of the unfortunate inevitabilities of life is death. Bennett was forced to cope with that at an early age when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 1993. Her father fought for three months after his diagnosis but eventually lost the battle.
In those three months, Bennett experienced some feelings of helplessness as her father dealt with the pain- both physical and mental that comes with fighting cancer.
That’s when Colleen took a tragic situation and found a silver lining that is still creating positive change to this day.
“My Dad, at one point, in the hospital just couldn’t get away from the pain. So, one night I went home and recorded some of the music that I knew he loved. I brought it in and started playing it on a little Walkman headset my Dad had, and within an hour he was asleep and he was calm… and he just had this escape,” said Bennett.
“And the idea of him listening to me playing piano for him… I was just really like ‘wow - that’s the power of music.’”
Colleen, ever an optimist, says that the experience was a gift from her father.
“(My father’s) gift to me was, in an interesting way, showing me that power of music and how it could help him and help others.”
Bennett and her husband, a retired NASCAR official, haven’t stopped helping others since; they founded the KEYS Program in 1993.
This new initiative, like any other, came with its own set of initial challenges.
The first hurdle Bennett needed to clear was the lack of awareness toward music therapy. As she traveled with her husband to various NASCAR events, she would visit children’s hospitals to share information with staff.
Soon enough, though, the hospitals started asking Colleen to perform. She created the role of Mrs. G Clef to be a comforting figure for the children she was serving. The shows were a massive success. As a result, several hospitals asked Bennett if she could record her performances so they could be at the hospital’s disposal anytime.
The first recording took place in Bennett’s living room and she says things really took off from there with increasing of staff and capability.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and KEYS currently serves over 450 children in New York alone and another 110 outside of the state each year. That’s a whole lot of smiles already, and the program is still expanding.
Bennett said thankfully KEYS is so busy that she doesn’t often have time to reflect on all the work she has done, but when she does she can’t help but be moved by it all.
“I get kind of emotional when I think about it. It’s kind of overwhelming. To be able to do that in a lifetime [or] even just in one day to reach one child would be such a gift. And to reach all these kids and families… I’m just so thankful and appreciative to have had this experience. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to get to do what I do.”
To learn more about the work Bennett does, please visit https://www.keysprogram.org/.