“In Service to Others” was the featured article in the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest’s Sunday Magazine on December 15th. I often read inspiring articles to my son, who is blind. He doesn’t subscribe to a service for news in a version he could “read” with his finger tips. He wouldn’t be able to grasp the full impact of the article in Braille anyway, as the pictures add a dimension he’d miss without my verbal description.
The article profiles many Seattle area residents and details their countless hours of service to their communities. Here is one statistic that stood out. The national average for volunteerism is at 27 percent – about 83 million people helped their neighbors, churches, schools and charities in 2011 according to survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In Washington state the figure was higher: Nearly 35 percent of residents spent an average of 40 hours a year in voluntary pursuits, according to the survey! I could see the wheels turning in Nick’s mind. We stopped and calculated his hours for the last year. He averages 2-3 hours every Friday at our local Senior Center playing the grand piano in the dining room during the lunch hour. In addition this year he has added the first Monday of each month to his hours at this site. By our calculations he logs about 192 hours a year doing his volunteer work at this one location alone. He added some volunteer sets at a few local area assisted living homes over the years too. He is beloved by all the folks who hear his voice and piano tunes. I often attend and let him know how wonderful I feel when I see the smiling faces that are a result of his sharing of his talent!
My son, Nicholas Baker, has been blind from birth. In his early twenties he received an additional diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Nick is an amazing young man. From birth, he has had a wonderful ear for music. He was reaching for the piano keys as an infant and playing full keyboard songs as soon as his small hands could form the chords.
Nick is an accomplished performer and composer. He wrote songs for, performed and recorded his first CD, “Think Positive”, while attending the Washington State School for the Blind in 2002. He has always enjoyed singing and playing piano for others. He was involved in music programs all through his school years and college.
His volunteerism began one summer when his Grandmother came to visit our family. She is a very social lady and quickly discovered the senior center located close enough for her to walk down there for the daily lunch. It was her way of entertaining herself and getting out having lunch with friends her own age. She lamented about that “lovely grand piano… just sitting there in the dining room!” Not one to see things go to waste, she inquired of the staff as to whether they’d appreciate her grandson coming and playing for whomever was eating lunch of an afternoon. The staff was delighted, but stated they had no money in their budget to pay for entertainment on a weekly basis. Nick was so happy to have a regular audience he stated that he didn’t want to be paid, just was happy to be there playing for everyone!
The center director was overwhelmed! She offered Nick a free lunch and said he could bring his CD to sell and even put out a tip jar, if he wanted. A bargain was struck and Nick became a regular feature on Fridays. They even occasionally hire Nick for special events when funds are allocated for entertainment!
Nick rides the DART bus every week back and forth to the center. This allows him to be independent to do his volunteer work and usually collects a few dollars in tips so his fare is funded both ways. The driver and passengers are often treated to Nick’s impromptu concerts as they drive along to their destinations. Nick has been riding DART Para-transit buses now for many years to visit friends and travel to some of his work sites, instead of relying on Mom to be his chauffeur.
Nick’s work as a volunteer entertainer eventually led to paying performances. He is now gainfully employed by many of the Assisted Living facilities in our area to provide music and song for the resident’s monthly celebrations of birthdays, special holidays and even the afternoon “happy hour” music.
Since the release of his first CD, he has added several more and most recently released one called “This One’s For You”. It is dedicated to me, his mom! He was playing at a facility one afternoon when I was serving in the driver mode. He knows I love his arrangement of Misty. Before he began to play he leaned over the piano and said in a stage whisper “Hey Mom, This one’s for you!” I was inspired to suggest that this become the title for his latest CD. “This One’s For You” is a collection of his jazz arrangements of my era’s popular songs like “Misty”.
If ever anyone asks “do you get tired of driving Nick to his gigs or helping him with his growing music and entertainment business?” I just laugh! Where else could I get a job that required me to sit back, relax and listen to my son’s beautiful piano playing and singing for an hour or two? It is definitely one of the perks of having this amazing person in my family!
Just sign me “Nick’s Mom and Number One Fan.”by