Sophomore forms nationwide community outreach program to deliver soothing music video performances for the elderly during COVID-19 pandemic

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Image used with permission from Lauren Pak.

With her iPhone placed on the far right end of her piano set for video recording, sophomore Lauren Pak starts her practice session Aug. 19 from her Fullerton home, playing a composition titled, “Promise of the World,” from the Japanese anime, “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Pak will eventually record the final version as a trio with two other student volunteers as part of the Harmony4Homes community service project that she started in the summer to send video music performances to the elderly in local and national nursing homes.

Minjeong Kim

Sophomore Lauren Pak still remembers the day she was inspired by her community service idea of delivering video recordings of teenagers playing soothing music to the elderly at local and national nursing homes.

Pak’s first year at Sunny Hills was ending in May, and she knew she would find herself with a lot more time on her hands during her first weeks of summer break in June.

“I had read multiple articles online about the rising fears of economic instability, rising cases and rising deaths during this [COVID-19] pandemic, but I’ll always remember when I first read about the rising cases [of the elderly] in nursing homes throughout the country,” she said. “It absolutely broke my heart to see the exponentially increasing cases in these senior centers, and one story that really hurt me was about how a family in New Jersey was unable to visit their grandmother who had dementia due to these social distancing guidelines and received no updates about her, only to discover that she had passed away from the coronavirus when they [later] visited the nursing center.

“I can’t imagine the fear she, and so many other senior residents, must feel to be alone with no family members or visitors by their side while they live everything in fear of contracting the virus and dying.”

Pak said she had already developed a soft spot for the elderly when she started performing music every other Saturday at the Buena Park Nursing Center for the past two years with a group called RemedyThruMusic, adding that her musical talents range from pianist to flutist to soloist. But that community service opportunity ended in April because of the coronavirus pandemic, as nursing homes nationwide were forced to close down to any visitors to prevent the elderly from catching COVID-19 and dying from it.

Without the chance to visit the elderly and perform live for them, the amateur musician started brainstorming ways to use her musical abilities to benefit senior citizens from her own home. 

“From being unable to see their families to knowing that their lives are in jeopardy every day [because of COVID-19], I feel like if there was any time that our senior citizens needed the most comfort, it would be now,” Pak said. 

So on June 9, she formed a community service project titled, Harmony4Homes, and nearly three months later, it has attracted 27 volunteers and has partnered with 40 nursing homes, impacting an estimated number of 100 total senior residents. 

Pak contacted Buena Park Nursing Center in the beginning of the organization’s establishment but was unable to provide its services because of the lack of proper technology equipment supplied to the senior residents.

When I was thinking of the name, I had multiple options in my head, of course,” Pak said. “But right when I thought about Harmony4Homes, I thought, ‘This is the one,’ since it captures both the musical and nursing home component of spreading comfort to the residents in nursing homes.”

Though she never asked any of her peers for their feedback about the name, she eventually ran it by her mother, who told her daughter that it had a “positive and reassuring meaning to it,” she said.

Pak then came up with the following process for how Harmony4Homes can emotionally support and entertain the elderly during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • As often as Pak can, she and other teenage volunteers video record themselves performing as many musical compositions of their choice such as “Nostalgia” by Joe Hisaishi and “One Summer’s Day” from the Oscar-winning anime, “Spirited Away.”
  • Musicians and singers can collaborate on recordings as a duet, trio or quartet.
  • Volunteers submit their performance recordings to Harmony4Homes’ email address, [email protected] or share their videos through Google Drive by Friday midnight or Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m.
  • Using her video editing and computer programming skills she learned from Robert C. Fisler elementary and middle school, Pak uses Apple’s iMovie app to put together a maximum 15-minute long production, which can take two-three hours to edit and complete.
  • Pak emails the video file to nursing homes that have agreed to partner with Harmony4Homes (up to 40 as of the end of August).
  • Nursing home staff will then have the option of broadcasting the videos into senior citizens’ rooms.

“My intention was based on my hope that virtually providing music [to senior residents of nursing homes] will not only continue to comfort them, but also remind them that they are not alone in these hard times,” Pak said.

VOLUNTEER RECRUITMENT BOOM

At first, Harmony4Homes’ founder said she was able to recruit just seven volunteers, such as her Sunny Hills and Troy high school friends who shared a passion for music. As of late August, that number has nearly quadrupled through word of mouth in social media promotions with teenagers from seven other states besides California, according to Harmony4Homes’ website, harmony4homes.weebly.com, which Pak created.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the organization can fill out the form on its website. An email of introduction will be sent within a day after the applicants submit their forms, and applicants will immediately begin to follow the performance recording procedures.

“When new music volunteers fill out the form on our site, I seek dedication and commitment, diligence and passion, which most of our volunteers exhibit through the performance videos they send me every week,” Pak said. “I do not consider their level of skill, and all they need is the passion for playing music to bring comfort to others.”

Junior Carolyn Tran, who learned of the service group from Pak’s Instagram story and joined on July 13, touts the impact Harmony4Homes has had not only on the elderly in nursing homes, but also upon herself.

“At first, I decided to join solely because I had nothing to do in quarantine and wanted to do something that will help the community,” said Tran, who has recorded herself playing piano for such musical compositions as “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme from La La Land.” “However, I was able to gain a lot of confidence in playing music through this experience, knowing that I’m capable of helping elders enjoy this hard time [during the COVID-19 pandemic].”

She envisions that Harmony4Homes will have a bright future as volunteers are dedicated and are all striving to achieve the goal of reaching out to more nursing homes.

“Although I did take part of this just for fun, now I’m eager to help grow the organization and send our videos to more places,” Tran said. 

Sophomore Rachel Kim, who joined July 5 after finding out about Harmony4Homes through Pak’s mother’s contacting her mother directly, also found her volunteer experience rewarding at a time when she had nothing much to do at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This organization is the only productive and helpful thing I’ve been able to be a part of over the summer,” said Kim, who plays the violin and has submitted four recordings so far. “Although I was involved in other community service [projects] before joining [Harmony4Homes], COVID-19 limited my ability to volunteer anywhere else. 

THE MUSIC (WO)MAN DELIVERS

Another step that Pak needed to figure out was how to best reach out to nursing homes locally, statewide and across the country.

“I first promoted Harmony4Homes on my social media on June 29,” Pak said. “Then, I reached out to a well-established organization called ‘Covid NineTEEN Project’ that I was a part of and requested them to promote my organization through their platform as well.”

Pak’s mother helped further promote it the next month by informing parents about the organization on a blog called MissyUSA. 

“Even after the hours of practicing, performing and editing videos, I’m so happy to see Lauren helping comfort the elders at nursing homes in our community and keeping them in her thoughts during these hard times,” Sandy Pak said.

According to the outreach project’s website, Harmony4Homes has partnered with nursing facilities beyond California.

“I do not want to limit our services to Los Angeles County and Orange County,” Lauren Pak said. “Eventually, I hope to send our music to nursing homes even beyond California, especially to other states where some of our music volunteers live.” 

As a method of promotion, Lauren Pak said the Harmony4Homes’ Instagram platform (@harmony4homes) will be kept active, and digital flyers will be created for her music volunteers to post and reach out with. 

But she also plans to make paper advertisements when the Sunny Hills campus reopens for hybrid learning in the future. To fund the cost of producing the flyers, Lauren Pak said she will organize fundraisers and compete in contests. 

Moreover, to gain support for her organization, the founder plans to partner with other teen-led groups like “Accessible Orchestra.”

Garden Grove’s Garden Park Care Center, one of Harmony4Homes’ partners, sent Pak this appreciation letter:

“Our residents deeply appreciate you thinking about them and taking the time to brighten up their day during this difficult time,” wrote Sally Dominquez, the center’s activity director. 

Garden Park Care’’s administrator, Craig Clayton, wrote, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and we hope to continue to see many more of your videos in the future!”

ENCORE! ENCORE!

Lauren Pak’s goal is to reach out to a wider range of nursing homes and expand her organization to communities across Northern and Southern California. 

Along with volunteering as a music performer, she says her organization is looking for people to fill other positions.

More information on Harmony4Homes, such as the volunteers’ past performance videos and letters of appreciation from other nursing homes, can be viewed at Harmony4Homes’ official website.

“You may help us by entering our outreach committee, which is a crucial portion of our organization, by reaching out to nursing homes, editing performance videos and so much more,” Lauren Pak said. “We are not limited to just volunteers who can play music, but [we want] anyone who exhibits the passion and dedication to spread love and music to the senior residents in our community.”