Volunteering Reaps High Rewards
March 23, 2011
At this year’s Mardi Gras, Charlie Livaudais, a retired attorney and a member and trumpet player of the Baldwin Pops accompanied Ted Donley, a long-time volunteer and pianist at Catherine Place.
Even during the holidays, whether it’s Christmas or Mardi Gras, Donley comes ready to entertain, reminisce and enjoy his loyal listeners.
Victorian poet and artist John Ruskin once wrote that the highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it. Ted Donley, like most humble volunteers, won’t take credit for his time and talent, but recognizes how playing the piano at Catherine Place for the past five years has impacted his life for the better.
Catherine Place, a Mercy Medical assisted living community in Daphne, is special to Donley for many reasons. He has come to know the residents, volunteers and their families every Friday afternoon at 4 pm when they have happy hour and he plays songs of yesteryear. The residents delight in listening to Donley’s piano playing and reminiscing old times. Songs like The Tennessee Waltz, It had to be You, and Let me call you Sweatheart share memories of a treasured past. Although Donley wasn’t formally trained as a musician and admits to not being able to read music, his knowledge of chords combined with a good ear has helped him learn an extensive repertoire of songs. What he finds most rewarding about his journey as a volunteer and a musician is his study of music therapy. Research indicates that music therapy boosts social and emotional skills and improves memory recall. Every Friday afternoon, Donley proves that it is fact.
“Some residents who don’t talk or smile change when a song comes on they know. They start singing, toe tapping and talking. Music association brings back good memories. I’m very interested in how music improves their day,” explained Donley. He shared that he once considered going back to school to study music therapy; however his real world experience has made him an expert in providing music therapy that lift spirits, promotes comfort and relaxation, and enhances interest levels and social interaction.
Over the years, Donley has become close to many residents. One in particular, Mimi, became his endearing friend. At age 97, Mimi is vivacious and loving, and knows how to have a good time. She also regularly requested Tie a Yellow Ribbon every Friday, and it now has become routine at Catherine Place’s happy hour. Mimi’s adoration of Tony Orlando inspired Donley to purchase tickets and escort Mimi to his show at the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, MS. But Donley went even further and over-nighted Orlando a photo of Mimi with a note requesting him to sing her special song. Unfortunately, Orlando didn’t receive his package in time. However, the show was a dream come true for Mimi. A few days after Donley returned home, he received a message on his answering machine from Orlando. “I couldn’t believe it but Tony Orlando called to apologize for not getting the package in time. He went on to ask me to arrange a phone call to Mimi, so he could sing her song. What a great guy, so kind and compassionate,” shared Donley.
And true to his word, Tony Orlando called Mimi and sang Tie a Yellow Ribbon to her and talked with her over the phone. As one of his oldest and most loyal fans, she will never forget the personal serenade from her favorite singer, Tony Orlando. Mimi will be able to relive the experience every Friday at happy hour.
Donley’s commitment and talent has changed many lives of families and the staff at Catherine Place. Volunteering has made him a better musician, a music therapist without the formal training and a compassionate, committed friend that is able to bring back cherished memories, and make new ones we will never forget.