I [Jeanne] first heard Jim Newton sing about 30 years ago, and I was so impressed that I invited him to give a concert at James Madison University where I was the United Methodist campus minister. I also discovered that he wrote children’s music and bought his album World Around Song for my daughter.
I met Jim again in March 2017 at a recording session in which Noel Paul Stookey, the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary, was recording a song for KidLinks, a nonprofit that provides live and recorded music for hospitalized children and their families. Noel invited me to the session because we are writing a book about his solo music, faith journey, social activism, and humanitarian work. I had had no idea that he has been involved with KidLinks since the 1980s and sang some of the songs on Jim’s album.
KidLinks, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the result of a merger of two successful charities, Hugworks and the KidLinks Foundation. For decades, KidLinks has provided healing experiences for children through performing arts and media, funded therapeutic music initiatives, university-level Music Therapy (MT) training, and free/low cost treatment programs for children in need.
Today, through Hugworks Children’s Network, KidLinks is changing the face of therapeutic music entertainment for patients and families in hospitals across North Texas and beyond. Funds raised go directly to the creation of content to improve the daily experiences of hospitalized and special needs children.
Jim Newton founded Hugworks as Celebration Shop, Inc., in 1981 after graduation from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Its original purpose was supporting Newton’s musical ministry with youth groups and campus ministries. Several years later, he discovered music’s value in the healing of hospitalized children and to help them deal with their challenges.
Celebration Shop became Hugworks, providing Therapeutic Music Entertainment (TME) as a direct service to families in children’s hospitals and special care centers across the country. The Hugworks program was developed with input and guidance from child life specialists, music therapists, and other early childhood service professionals.
The KidLinks Foundation was formed in 2001 by individuals associated with the energy industry who wanted to improve the lives of children in Texas. Over the years, the organization expanded its reach by funding TME and MT in hospitals across the United States. The KidLinks Foundation has also funded university-level MT training and treatment programs for children in need. With its merger with Hugworks, KidLinks Foundation became KidLinks.
The KidLinks full-time staff includes Diana Crawford, CEO; Jim Newton, Founder and Chief Program Officer; and Paul G. Hill, Senior Producer. Other staff include a development associate/communication specialist, two Board-Certified Music Therapists, and volunteers.
KidLinks music and resources are available through Hugworks Children’s Network. Children’s Hospital of Greenville Health System (SC) and Cook Children’s Health Care System (Fort Worth, TX) are the HCN foundational sponsors. With their support, along with many donors and foundations, HCN continues to grow steadily. Therapeutic resources (free for streaming) include songs, sing-along and relaxation videos, and animations. Some HCN music may be purchased through the website.
The KidLinks TME staff develops new resources for HCN and provides hours of direct service in children’s hospitals and a number of special care centers in the North Texas area and beyond.
KidLinks’ two Board-Certified Music Therapists serve at least a dozen children each week who are dealing with autism, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, and other challenging conditions.
In 2016, KidLinks launched a Music Therapy Channel to provide audio, video, and digital print resources for Board-Certified Music Therapists and other healthcare/education professionals, as well as for family members and caregivers.
Next, meet Jim Newton, Founder and Chief Program Officer of KidLinks and Hugworks Children’s Network. Jim and his spouse, Rev. Melissa Graham, are also co-pastors of Line Street and Covington United Methodist Churches in the Central Texas Conference of the UMC.
Jeanne Torrence Finley is writing a book with Noel Paul Stookey about his solo music, faith journey, and social activism. For more than 30 years, Noel has been a producer and singer/songwriter for the KidLinks. Jeanne is a United Methodist minister and part of the writing team for FaithLink, a weekly United Methodist curriculum on current issues. https://jeannetorrencefinley.com//
Healing Through Music
– Jim Newton
After seminary, I was a folk singer and traveled around the country singing for youth groups and campus ministries. I had established the nonprofit Celebration Shop to oversee my ministry. Two years later, during a weekend gig, my hosts requested that I visit the children’s floor in a nearby hospital.
Tired from a long tour and unprepared to sing children’s songs, I reluctantly went to the hospital. After I did a concert for a group of children, a nurse asked me to sing for a little boy who was too sick to come out of his room.
I sang a few songs and, as the boy’s mom walked me into the hall, she told me how much she appreciated my doing this because she didn’t think they were going to be able to take him home this time. She thought they were going to lose him. He hadn’t smiled like that in weeks, and she’d never seen him clap his hands to music before. She said I’d given them a priceless gift.
The need was great and the music made a difference. A lightbulb went off in my head as I left. I went home and told the Celebration Shop board that we should go in a new direction. I started volunteering in hospitals and consulting with Child Life Specialists and medical staff about the special needs of hospitalized children. With some talented friends, I wrote and collected children’s songs that helped meet those needs. Within several years, most of my work was in children’s hospitals.
Therapeutic Music Entertainment
Our music is not Music Therapy, but Therapeutic Music Entertainment (TME), which is a musical performance or activity which, by virtue of its diversion, amusement and/or engaging qualities, promotes healing. Whether a child’s challenge is medical or emotional-psychological, TME can help children express feelings in healthy ways, build self-esteem, accept their own and others’ differences, relax, be silly, have fun, and heal.
Paul G. Hill, another SMU grad with a degree in music theory and composition, became my partner in composition and arrangement. When we were writing new songs for our first kids’ album, I invited Noel Paul Stookey, the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary, to help us produce this special new resource. Noel accepted and joined us as a singer, songwriter, and producer.
The album (originally called Friends of the Family and now Best I Can Be) needed funding. That’s when J.W. and Ann Brown became interested in our mission. J.W., then President of Dallas Energy Finance Discussion Group, funded the second album, We Can Do, through personal and group donations.
From Celebration Shop to Hugworks to KidLinks
By the mid-1990s, Celebration Shop had become Hugworks with a mission to provide healing experiences for the special needs of children through performing arts, music, and media. In 2001, J.W. was instrumental in bringing together people associated with the Texas energy industry to form the KidLinks Foundation.
The foundation’s main fundraising effort is the KidLinks Energy Golf Classic, now in its seventeenth year. It grosses around a half-million dollars annually to support direct services offered for children and families in children’s hospitals and special care centers across the country.
Several years ago, KidLinks started the Symphony of Chefs event, in which chefs from restaurants in the Dallas area cook at individual tables; this event generally raises about $200,000. These two events fund over half of our work each year, and J.W. Brown is now chair of the board.
In 2015, Hugworks merged with the KidLinks Foundation, to become KidLinks. The Hugworks name was retained for its online presence as Hugworks Children’s Network, which currently offers free streaming of about 100 songs in English and Spanish, as well as a growing number of animations, sing-along and relaxation videos, and a Music Therapy Channel. Each song addresses one or more of the challenges faced by children who are hospitalized or have other special needs.
Everything we do now is written with some special need in mind, for example autism or some kind of body-altering cancer surgery. The Child Life and Child Development specialists that we have on our review teams make sure that our messages are age-appropriate and that they’re also appropriate in terms of helping kids normalize whatever traumatic or challenging environment they may be in.
But the messages are just as good for kids who are normal, whatever that means. We feel that every child has a special need; some are just not as obvious as others. So our music is out there for everybody, but we particularly want to make hospitals aware of its availability.
The Language of Love
I have a life-long commitment as a Christian minister, ordained in the United Methodist Church, but I knew the hospitals wouldn’t let us come in as singers and use religious language in our songs. We had to use secular language, and I wanted to make sure that, regardless of their religious background or lack thereof, these kids could hear the message of unconditional love and of caring, concern, compassion and empathy: all those things that were so completely embodied in the life of Christ and his teachings. I wanted to be able to expose everybody to those in every way I could.
When I first explained the project to singer/songwriter Noel Paul Stookey and asked him to join us, I told him that we couldn’t use overt religious language, so we couldn’t say, God, Christ, or Jesus. Noel suggested Love, because scripture says that God is love, and that would be good enough for him. I knew then that we were on the same wavelength. Noel’s a very committed Christian and has always been able to bridge the gap between the church and the world.
We have a supporter here in Texas who is also a very committed Christian, and he really wanted to help us, but he was bothered by the fact that we don’t use religious language. He said that he could provide a lot more support if we used gospel language in our songs. I told him that the hospitals wouldn’t allow us to proselytize through our songs. But honestly, I wouldn’t do it anyway because I don’t think Jesus showed up and said, “I’m a Jew and let me tell you all about the Jewish faith.” Jesus showed up and said, “Where do you hurt? I have a balm.”
Paul Hill, Noel Paul Stookey, and Jim Newton
And that’s what we do. We approach people where they hurt, where the need is, and we offer a balm. It could be humor so that they can laugh and let off some steam. It could be relaxation so that they can be eased in a time of turmoil. It could be a message of self-esteem, so that they feel better about who they are. It could be a message of diversity that helps them know that they’re whole, even though they may be missing an arm or a leg.
I told this guy that I really honored his Christian commitment and I totally understood what he was saying, but I thought Jesus would want us to do it exactly like this. I didn’t think he was wrapped up in trying to take his religious doctrine and put it on other people.
This supporter responded well, and paid off our building. But he had to be talked through that dilemma between religious language and world language first, how it’s really possible to take Jesus’ message and put it into terms that people can understand and be nurtured by, even though they don’t really know where it came from. The plaque we put on the building just said this: An anonymous Christian and energy business man from Dallas donated the building.
Our congregation is spread over the whole world. People who have no resources can hear our songs. To me, it’s just a natural extension of ministry. Christ sent us all into the world and said that what you’re doing for people in need, you’re doing for me.
Jim Newton serves as the Program Director of KidLinks. Jim brings to KidLinks a wealth of musical experience and has worked with others to create a new discipline, Therapeutic Music Entertainment, while bringing the transforming and healing power of music into children’s hospitals and other special care settings. Jim holds a BA in Philosophy and a Master’s in Theology, and has trained and served as a hospital chaplain. https://www.kidlinks.org/
This article is reprinted from Issue #10 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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