Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Most Important Thing I Learned in College

Jason Didner as a sophomore at State University of New York, Stony brook with his council mates for the Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM) fraternity in 1989

That’s me on the left, with fraternity couclimates Rob Gordon, Steve Cash and Dennis Kastanis. I know, the hair, right??

In my college years, there was all kinds of learning: learning to manage my life on my own, academic learning, and social learning. Then there was this one lesson that stood above every lecture, paper, exam or personal experience. It was that together we can be a force for good way beyond what one person can do alone.

Late in my freshman year at Stony Brook University, a fraternity fell into my lap. We were to be founding fathers of a new chapter of a national Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM). I said yes, I’d give it a try.

The Fraternity didn’t turn me into a “frat boy.” I didn’t suddenly become a football hero and I didn’t get the desire to pull pranks on kids too shy to stand up for themselves. The experience of being in this fraternity at this time did something much more profound that still motivates me. It showed me the importance of giving back to the community through philanthropy, even when you’re a college kid on a low budget. And it taught me you could show people a great time while they’re participating in charitable actions.

One of my favorite charitable event we did was the “Singing tuck-ins” where those of us in the fraternity who were musicians (most of my band with its various lineups had joined) would be requested to knock on a co-ed’s door and tuck her into bed while performing a Bon Jovi or Guns n Roses power ballad acoustically. The money raised would go to a local charity. I didn’t have lots of my own money to donate, but I had a skill that was worth money to enough people that together – my fraternity brothers and our ‘customers’ – we made a difference.

A more outlandish example of what we could accomplish together was our “lunar beach party” in a dorm suite. On a winter night about 20 of us went out to the beach and each scooped up a garbage bag worth of sand and brought it back to the suite. We laid the sand on the floor and put up a volleyball net. We stuck a glowing moon and stars to the ceiling. So we had a real indoor beach party on a winter night. This was the kind of crazy thing you could only do in a group of people committed to the same rewarding result. I don’t think the idea would have even occurred to me alone, but together because of someone’s zany, brilliant idea, we made a lasting memory.

Today, some things have stayed strikingly the same. I still love to help people with my talents, but can’t take out the checkbook and quietly write a big check like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi can. If I want to make a real contribution, I rely on the help of people like you participating with me. This is why I decided to start #SummerOfSharing with the release of my Lollipop Motel album.

This is why I felt compelled to help Xavier, a 5-year-old Philadelphia boy who has been in and out of the hospital all his life for the heart condition he was born with. He’s been through multiple surgeries and a cardiac arrest that stole his developmental gains from walking to speech. I pledged 50% of album download proceeds in the month of June to Xavier’s family and now today’s the last day of the June campaign to help Xavier.

Will you help Xavier today by downloading my critically acclaimed family-friendly album Lollipop Motel for $9.95? 50% of proceeds go to his family.

The most important thing I learned in college is that together we can make a real difference in the lives of real people who need it – in ways we can’t do alone. And I still want to do this with you – maybe even more now than I did back then.

What’s the most important thing you learned in your school days or young adulthood right after school? Please comment below – and chip in to help Xavier!



Why I’m helping Xavier (and why I hope you’ll do this with me)

Campaign ends at midnight tonight! Please get involved now!

Xavier Ross, a 5-year-old heart patient at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who we're helping with Jungle Gym Jam's #SummerOfSharing 2016Five years ago, Nate and Jackie Ross were expectant parents who were anxious and eager to learn how their unborn son was developing inside of Jackie’s body. They were totally unprepared for the news they were to receive – that their boy had a life-threatening heart condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) that would require medical intervention while he was in the womb and life-saving surgery in the first week of his life.

In HLHS, the left side of the heart is underdeveloped and the blood flows backward, meaning that the blood delivered to the brain and muscles lacks the much-needed oxygen that would have been in forward-flowing blood. CHOP’s methods involve strengthening the right side of the heart to compensate for what the left side is unable to do.

Just a generation ago, this diagnosis would have been an unquestionable death sentence. But in the 21st century, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has established a solid track record of surgical and medical interventions to give these children legitimate hope of a normal life expectancy. The Ross family made the unselfish decision to move to the Philly suburbs from their New York home to give their baby Xavier every chance at a normal, healthy life.

Will you help Xavier by downloading my Lollipop Motel family beach rock album today? 50% goes to the Ross family to help pay for transportation to and from the hospital, household supplies, physical and occupational therapy, nursing care for Xavier when he gets home from this long hospitalization and many other expenses you can only imagine.

Xavier made it through multiple surgeries for his heart and was growing, developing, thriving. Of course he’d need to return for regular checkups for his heart and there’d be another surgery for the 3-year-old as he and his heart grew. In recovery from a successful surgery, Xavier suffered a devastating cardiac arrest, which he survived because of his surgeon’s quick response, but he’s been left with long-term damage from the oxygen deprivation to his young brain. His speech and mobility have been lost and have not returned, nearly 2 years later. He’s in a wheelchair and communicates primarily through his facial and emotional expressions, which are as strong as ever.

As the father of a 5-year-old myself, my empathy runs high for these parents; Xavier’s dad’s a musician like me. In fact, that’s how I came to learn of his story. I’ve been following his family’s updates on Facebook for over a year and have been continually moved by this family’s ordeal.

The latest update (from our mutual friend Mousey, a great sound engineer at Montclair’s Just Jake’s) came just as I had launched a #SummerOfSharing campaign for my new album Lollipop Motel, where I’d share 50% of album download proceeds with a good cause. I had just finished a May campaign to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when I saw a new update at just the right time. I made a choice on the spot to help Xavier and family this month.

Will you help Xavier by downloading my Lollipop Motel family beach rock album today? 50% goes to the Ross family.


If you prefer the physical CD, I can personally autograph it to your child and I’ll donate 10% of those proceeds to the family. Get the CD here.

Please comment below on why you’re helping Xavier too!






Two Double-Header Reviews of Album+Live Show

Within the past few weeks, two local parenting bloggers have (independently of one another) found a way to write about the whole Jungle Gym Jam experience. They first received a review copy of our CD Lollipop Motel and then attended out live show with their families. Both NJ Mommy Blog writer Nicole and Silly Fun Momma blogger Nikki took the time to share that all-around experience of first listening to the record and then taking in the live performance.

Photo by Nicole at

Photo by Nicole at

In Nicole’s case (NJ Mommy Blog), that live show was our Album Release Party/Family Beach Party at the Old Mogul Theatre in Montclair with the full band (plus a horn section!) where we put together an event that included boardwalk style games & food, face painting and crafts.

Then Nikki (Silly Fun Momma) came out to catch an acoustic performance by Amy and me at Palisades Center in West Nyack, NY as part of the mall’s Munchkin Mondays summer family concert series. Nikki’s personal story found elsewhere in her blog is particularly compelling and helpful to other parents. She’s an Afghanistan War vet who considers parenting to be therapy for her case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jason and Amy Didner-the acoustic Jungle Gym Jam with Bruce the Jersey Dinosaur puppet

Photo by Nikki at

Both bloggers took great pictures of the respective events; each offered their personal take on how their families enjoyed the experience of listening to the album together and which moments stood out when seeing those same songs performed live.

For Nicole with NJ Mommy Blog, the Jersey Shore beach references were key, tapping into memories both from her own childhood and new memories she’s making with her family today. She writes in her review of the album that “Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam really capture the golden moments of being a carefree kid having a blast at the beach.”

Nikki’s observation in Silly Fun Momma also picked up on the perk of having music the whole family could genuinely enjoy and bond over. “While listening to the album by the pool, with my son, we found ourselves bopping our heads along and giggling to the lyrics.”

In describing the live event experience, Nicole at NJ Mommy Blog showed how our intentions of creating family beach trip moments came across exactly as we’d hoped. “With help from the band and our imaginations, the historic dance hall in Montclair was transformed into a boardwalk scene with music, face painting, crafts, games, and food.” She went on to describe our “fresh, beachy beats” and illustrate in words and pictures her favorite moments from both the live show and album.

Nikki’s write-up about our acoustic live show validated for me that even when you take away the extras – the face painting, crafts and the 8-piece band, the essence of our show is there to be enjoyed by all. “With puppets, diagrams, interactive activities and lively performances, Jungle Gym Jam excites the audience.” That was very gratifying to read, and I love that we’re able to offer both the acoustic duo and full band experience and have them both delight kids and their grown-ups!

Nikki also wrote about the #SummerOfSharing fundraising efforts we’re making for good causes alongside our album sales this summer. In June, for instance we’re sharing 50% of album download proceeds with 5-year-old heart patient Xavier and family. This effort captured a significant amount of her attention in her article.

Both reviewers have also run a CD giveaway in conjunction with their review. Nikki’s giveaway will open to contestants on June 11 and run until June 24 at 11:59 PM when a winner will be selected and announced.

Thanks to both Nicole and Nikki for taking the time to focus their attention on the Lollipop Motel album and then a live Jungle Gym Jam performance and integrate them each into an interesting, insightful review of the whole Jungle Gym Jam experience!

Rocking to Heal a Young Heart


Kid-friendly Rock Band Donates 50% of Album Downloads to 5-year-old Philly Heart Patient

5-year-old heart patient Xavier rocks his Jungle Gym Jam tie-dye shirt in physical therapy with his mom Jackie.

5-year-old heart patient Xavier rocks his Jungle Gym Jam tie-dye shirt in physical therapy.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Five-year-old Xavier Ross has been a heart patient at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since birth. He and his family have been on the roller coaster from intensive care to physical therapy and back again more times than a parent would ever want to think about. Xavier’s mom and dad have steeled themselves to say goodbye to their child and then witnessed the miracle of excellent medical care and a resilient child’s will to live take over. Xavier’s first heart surgery was when he was just days old. Repeated and varied health crises have sent him back to the hospital, interfering with his growth and development over the course of his young life.

North Jersey kindie rocker Jason Didner came to learn of Xavier’s story through a mutual friend “Mousey” Paula Petillo. “I’d get all choked up reading her updates about the health ups and downs of this child I didn’t know,” said Jason. “I didn’t have a lot of resources to chip in, but I wanted to help in whatever way I could, so I gave Mousey our CD and a basket of toy instruments to send to Xavier.” That CD was made by Jason’s kid-friendly rock band Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam.

Now, Jason is getting more involved, donating 50% of proceeds of his band’s newest album Lollipop Motel to Xavier’s families on all download purchases made in the month of June. Additionally, Jason will donate 10% of physical CD purchases (online orders and purchases at live concerts) made in June to the family. Jason’s goal is to donate $500 to Xavier’s family by June 30, which  could be accomplished by selling 100 album downloads in that timeframe.

Lollipop Motel is a beach-themed rock-n-roll album inspired by Jason’s family trips to North Wildwood, NJ where they stay at that exact motel, an official Doo-Wop district motel first opened in 1961. The sounds are influenced greatly by Jersey Shore rockers Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny, and the lyrics are filled with themes of family togetherness and oceanside delights.

You can purchase a copy of Lollipop Motel and help Xavier at You can learn more about Xavier’s story by reading his family’s blog at

For more information, contact Jason Didner. Email or call 201-838-1205