A charity that provides one-of-a-kind diving experiences for young people with disabilities will celebrate its 15th anniversary by offering a one-of-a-kind music experience at Camana Bay.
Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Patty Griffin will perform a concert at Abacus on Feb. 23 to benefit Stay-Focused, the charitable organisation that offers unique learning experiences to teens and young adults with disabilities through scuba diving. Speaking during a telephone interview from his apartment in New York City, which also serves as the “virtual headquarters” of Stay-Focused, Roger Muller, the charity’s founder and president, explained how the seeds of the charity were planted.
In 2000, Muller was in the Cayman Islands diving with his brother, Bobby, a Marine combat veteran with paraplegia as a result of an injury he sustained in Vietnam. Muller saw how transformational the experience was for his brother. A little later that year when Muller, in his early fifties and having worked in academia most of his life, was presenting a workshop to MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania, the seeds began to grow.
“I was talking to about a hundred MBA students about preferences and using assessment tools that I had used for years,” he said. “I remember saying that it’s really important to align your preferences with the work you do. And I recall standing in front of this group saying to myself, ‘C’mon Roger, you know you want to do a nonprofit organisation, so why don’t you just focus on that?’”
And so he did, but after more than two years of working to set up the charity, the expected funding went away at the last minute. As a result, Muller found it necessary to use his savings to make the charity a reality. Stay-Focused was incorporated in 2003, and the first dive took place in spring of 2004.
Fast-forward 15 years, and Stay-Focused holds weeklong dives for four weeks in Cayman every summer, with a team of five medical doctors and several coaches. To date it has made certified divers of 108 teenagers with all kinds of disabilities.
Muller thought it was important to offer the programme to teenagers. “I felt that giving teens with disabilities this opportunity would be most impactful,” he said. “I wanted to give young people who have a disability and who may have been excluded from activities growing up this really incredible confidence-building skill. What we’re doing is enhancing the quality of life for these teens, and giving them an empowering experience.”
In order to ensure that Stay-Focused stays afloat and awareness is raised, Muller organises fundraisers, including benefit concerts every year in the Cayman Islands, such as the upcoming concert with Patty Griffin, who will be accompanied by internationally renowned guitarist, David Pulkingham.
Griffin has produced seminal albums in the singer-songwriter genre and won the Grammy for her gospel album in 2010. Her songs have been covered by countless artists, including Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez and Bette Midler.
From on the road, touring, Griffin explained how she came to know Muller and about his charity. “I met Roger through his brother Bobby many years ago,” she said, discussing how Bobby Muller founded, among other organisations, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and, with a friend, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
“I got on board for a series of concerts back then in support of funding for the removal of landmines and their abolition,” Griffin said. “Before 9/11, that issue was starting to get the attention it needed through the hard work of organisations like Bobby’s. Bobby introduced me to Roger a few years later and I found out about Stay-Focused.” Griffin called the Muller brothers “an amazing pair of siblings.”
“They are getting a lot done that really needs to get done,” she said. “A lot of us have big ideas and even get them to the talking stage, but it seems like the Muller boys just got busy and started helping effectively.”
Griffin, who is donating the benefit concert for Stay-Focused, is doing her part to get things done for the charity. She explained that she loves touring, and is looking forward to the concert in the Cayman Islands, which will be her first trip here. “It’s an amazing and humbling thing to show up in a place you’ve never been before, and be welcomed by people you have never met to play music for them.”
Concertgoers will hear Griffin perform both older and newer material. “My newest material is always my favourite to perform, so I will probably be playing some of that on the island, as I am working on a new record,” she said. Muller said guests will not be disappointed with the event, which includes wine and a three-course meal from Abacus.
“It’s going to be a really memorable evening,” Muller said. “People in Cayman don’t necessarily know Patty Griffin. But I know her personally, and it’s going to be the kind of concert where, when guests leave, they’re going to say, ’Wow. That was unique to Cayman.’”
For more information about “An Evening Under the Stars” with Patty Griffin, visit Abacus or go to www.stay-focused.org.