New Foundation Seeks to Provide Scholarships at Art Academies in Ocean County

Oct 04, 2017

Zzak G, who passed away a couple of years ago after a six-month battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease, was a singer.

“He was an operatic tenor,” his daughters, Jody and Melissa Grinwald, the former from Toms River, the latter from Barnegat, agreed. “But his parents couldn’t afford lessons.”

Zzak G moved from Italy to the United States with his parents and sister when he was 4 years old. As immigrants, his parents weren’t loaded with lire.

Later in life, however, Zzak G discovered his talent and also became a songwriter. According to his daughters, he penned over 300 songs, starting with “Homeless,” which he was driven to write after seeing the body of a homeless man being carted away by paramedics from the alcove he spent his dying hours in. A highlight – he performed his song at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

He sang right up to the end, his daughters remembered.

“Most people lose their voice with ALS, but he didn’t. A week before he passed, he sang Happy Birthday to his granddaughter.”

Imagine what his career would have been like if he had been afforded lessons as a child. That’s what Jody and Melissa did, so they decided to start the Zzak G. Applaud Our Kids Foundation Inc. with a goal of providing scholarships to underprivileged children at arts academies in Ocean County.

They formed the foundation, set up an advisory committee that included folks such as Ocean County College Cultural Arts Director Mark Wilson; Sue Sedivec, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County; ex-Broadway performer Marcy De Gonge-Manfredi, who had appeared in “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera”; and Beach Haven’s Christa Steiner. Last Monday they launched a crowdrise page at crowdrise.com/applaudourkids to raise funds (as of this Tuesday morning they had collected $935). They’ve gotten four arts academies – Ocean County Arts Center in Waretown, Starlight Performing Arts in Manahawkin, Downtown Dance Academy in Toms River and From a Dancer’s Pointe, also in Toms River – to offer reduced rates for their scholarship kids and are currently in negotiations with a fifth. They’ve also gotten Barnegat School District Superintendent of Schools Karen Wood to agree to share their information with parents and intend on approaching other school districts in Ocean County to do the same. Finally, they’ve launched a Facebook page at facebook.com/applaudourkids to spread the word about their brand new foundation. (By the way, you can hear Zzak G sing “Homeless,” thanks to a link, and you’ll quickly realize he could indeed have been an opera tenor.)

The sisters are planning shows spotlighting the talents of their scholarship kids at the Stafford Township Arts Center this winter and the Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College next summer. They’re also developing a system to provide coaches for high school students preparing their auditions for performing arts slots at colleges and universities.

Ambitious, to say the least!

How can you help? Visit their crowdrise page, obviously. The sisters are also looking for donations of gently used dance shoes that your own kids have outgrown, and musical instruments that are gathering dust in attics or hiding under a pile of things in basements.

Finally, they’re looking for kids who could use scholarships. The money is coming in, so they want to get it out as soon as possible.

“One hundred percent of the money, other than some for printing ink and paper, will go to the kids.”

For a scholarship application, to make an in-kind donation or for further information, email Melissa at Melissa@applaudourkids.org or call 732-908-3616.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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