Sewickley Heights couple to be honored with Villa St. Joseph Partner in Caring Award
Ann and Frank Cahouet have been helping lift people's spirits by helping them lift their voices in song for several decades.
The Sewickley Heights couple will be honored with the 2013 Villa St. Joseph Partner in Caring Award at the residential nursing facility's annual Young at Heart fundraising gala, set for Sept. 27 at the Hyatt Regency hotel at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay.
“When we moved here in 1987, we formed a little singing group of senior citizens, and we would go to homes and hospitals and nursing homes to sing, and the Villa was on our list,” Ann Cahouet said.
Her group — the Sewickley Singers — disbanded this year after making its rounds for 26 years.
Her husband — who sings only in the shower — said he has admired his wife's determination to bring music to people's lives over the years.
“We've been married 57 years, and we've lived in England, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Detroit and here, and all those places she had these little singing groups,” said Frank Cahouet, who volunteers for other organizations and retired in 1998 as chairman and chief executive of the former Mellon Financial Corp. “Music is the most wonderful way for people to bring peace to themselves.”
When Villa officials began to research ways in which music could help the residents at the Baden campus, the Cahouets were there to help them start a program with music therapist Bridget Sutton, Villa development Director Ray Niedenberger said.
With their financial help, Villa St. Joseph began a music therapy program six years ago, and the Cahouets have continued to support the program as the facility raises money each year to keep it going, Niedenberger said. The Cahouets also helped the organization when the facility was raising money for a 120-bed, long-term care facility, he said.
Sutton conducts individual music therapy programs and four weekly programs, one for each of the “neighborhoods” at the Villa, including a program geared solely for Alzheimer's patients. She leads a choir and a bell choir.
Niedenberger said he has seen first-hand how music can lift people's spirits.
At one point, he said he heard some residents singing Christmas songs along with a group that had come to the Villa to entertain.
“I didn't think anything of it, but then the nurse told me that two of the residents usually barely talk, yet there they were singing Christmas songs,” he said.
Ann Cahouet said she has seen many audience members perk up once the music begins.
“They start with their heads down, and then they lift their head up when the music starts. Some can't remember if they brushed their teeth that day or not, but they can remember songs from their childhood, and they know every verse,” she said.
“They might be just sitting there thinking, ‘When is my daughter coming to visit? She said she was coming today.' And, they have all their aches and pains. All we can do is get them singing and dancing and thinking about something else for a little while.”
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.