Category Archives: Giving back

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!






Give to St. Jude, Get a Beach Album Your Family Will Love!

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

We were so inspired by the work of a 6-year-old podcaster that we’ve decided to join forces with her. Chloe (Chloe’s Friendship Circle) has been podcasting for almost a year and has started a campaign to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So every time you download our new album Lollipop Motel, we’ll donate 50% of the proceeds to Chloe’s fundraising drive for St. Jude’s.

St. Jude’s is unique because it’s not just a hospital for kids; it’s a hospital that through its foundation is able to assist families struggling to pay to maintain their kids’ health so they’re not worrying about a hospital bill on top of worrying about their children’s well being.

Lollipop Motel album cover - Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym JamLollipop Motel is a collection of fun, energetic rock-n-roll songs celebrating family vacation time at the beach, namely the Jersey Shore, inspired by the Jersey Shore’s most famous rock-n-roller, Bruce Springsteen and the folks who made the scene along with him, like Southside Johnny. You’ll get funny moments in songs like “Restless Heart” and “Jam Packed” to genuinely heartwarming moments like the fondly nostalgic “Lollipop Motel” title track. The sun-drenched “Day at the Beach” will whet your appetite for an actual day at the beach.

If you have an Apple device and prefer the simplicity of downloading music in iTunes, get your music here.

If you’re comfortable downloading ZIP files and copying them into your favorite music player, get your music right from my own web site.

Other download options include bandcamp (pay-what-you-want) or CD Baby (especially convenient if you already have an account with them), Amazon Music and Google Play Store.

Another very cool connection to St. Jude’s is that Lollipop Motel includes a cover of “Free to Be…You and Me,” the title track of the groundbreaking project by Marlo Thomas, who is the daughter of St. Jude’s founder Danny Thomas. So when you buy this album that concludes with “Free to Be…You and Me,” you’re helping one of Marlo’s favorite organizations too!

What are your favorite charities; what does it mean to you to give back to your community? Discuss in the comments below.

How Effective Are Child Sponsorships?

Guest post by Vera Mullins

Over the years, controversies have been rife over child sponsorships, but research and numerous studies have shown the vast improvement of kids’ lives in developing countries. According to a report on the BBC, which mainly focused on one aid agency, it managed to yield desirable results for both the sponsors and the organization.

The report specifically mentioned that kids stayed in school longer than those who didn’t have a sponsor, leading them to white collar jobs and even becoming leaders of their churches or communities. 42 percent of the sponsored children in Uganda were more likely to complete their secondary schooling. 83 percent of those part of the program were more likely to finish university. The greatest impact of child sponsorships can be seen with Ugandan schoolgirls. SFGate revealed that on average Ugandan girls stayed in school three years longer than their older siblings and non-sponsored peers.

Schoolchildren in Uganda continue to be blessed with educational opportunities, opening new doors to further develop not only themselves, but the rest of the community. The number of success stories are significantly less in other countries riddled in war, including Iraq. However, organizations such as UnaKids, continue to seek donors and sponsors to keep children in school and provide basic necessities, such as shelter and health care. This organization is a nonprofit that gives aid to children primarily in countries where oil company UnaOil operates.

While all of this sounds promising, people cannot help but still be skeptical about this programs. There is still the lingering notion of “leaving others behind,” only letting a select few children further educational pursuits. It’s a common misconception about these organizations. The Director of Fundraising and Communications of ActionAid International recently visited Cambodia and discovered that child sponsorship not only benefits the sponsored, but also the community. Matthew Beard explained that sponsorships are strategically allocated, so that advocacy will go toward the child as well as community, which will learn the skills to make it self-reliant.

Although the name is misleading, child sponsorships go a long way, making a difference in one kid’s life, and making positive changes in his respective community for a better future. Never stop giving these kids hope.