I was only 15 when Harry died and knew very little about him. The local AM radio DJ in Waterbury, CT used to play the live version of “Circle” every Friday night at 9:30, and he would sing-along on-the-air and encourage listeners to join in. It was pretty funny.
My sister was dating a guy who was a big fan of Harry’s music, and they were planning to go to his concert in Wallingford, CT, in late July. So when I saw the tv news flash of Harry’s death, I was saddened for Harry and for my sister. And shortly thereafter, I bought “Greatest Stories Live” and was hooked.
After graduating college in 1988, I heard about World Hunger Year’s “Hungerthons” on the radio in New York City, and contributed what I could afford each year. Then, in 1995, as marketing director for a couple of radio stations on Long Island, New York (where Harry lived), I organized a couple of food drives for Long Island Cares (the regional food bank Harry founded just before he died). And I wanted to get involved on a broader level, but didn’t know how.
Then, just 6 months after I’d taken the radio job, the stations were sold and the format was changed from rock to country. I decided to leave the stations, and one of my last official duties there was to organize a free “listener appreciation concert” at the outdoor amphitheater at Eisenhower Park. It turned out that this was the the “Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater”—the beautiful theater where Harry was supposed to perform the day he died.
Our country concert was a success, and it inspired me to pursue a benefit concert in Harry’s memory to fight hunger. I contacted Sandy Chapin, Long Island Cares, the Parks Department (which managed the theater), then Tom and Jen Chapin, and some key and very generous sponsors including Hewlett Packard and Fleet Bank.
The concert took nearly a year to put together, and, along the way, there were many times when, for one reason or another, it appeared as though it might not happen.
I remember one night, while researching potential sponsors at the Huntington Library, the prospect of making the concert happen was not looking very good. I went upstairs in the library to make some copies of some periodicals, and when leaving the copy room, spotted a portrait of Harry hanging on the wall. I was reminded then of Harry’s motto that perseverance was the key.
Finally, with the help of many, many Harry Chapin fans and volunteers from across the country and beyond (California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and even Canada,), we put together a great show.
An estimated 10,000 people attended on a perfect July summer night in 1997. More than 100 people signed up to volunteer long beyond the concert. We raised more than $15,000, generated support from big companies like Hewlett Packard and Fleet Bank, generated lots of media coverage about fighting hunger, and, from what we learned after the show, many, many people were then inspired to get involved and make a difference.
Of course, as Harry used to say, events don’t solve the problems, and food drives don’t solve hunger. One of our goals with the concert was to raise awareness and bring hunger back to the forefront of peoples’ consciousness. The other goal was to use the event to inspire people to get involved.
I’ve stayed involved with both Long Island Cares and World Hunger Year, two great organizations with dedicated staffs and volunteers who want to make a difference. And I’ve found that the more I get involved, the more I want to be involved. Harry was right, there’s nothing like working with people who have live hearts, live minds.
To me, Harry’s greatest legacy is his ability to inspire others to act and make a difference.
And at the end of the day, how great would it be to leave this world knowing that we mattered?
When in doubt, do something.
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