For years, I was silent, stuck in a body that could no longer do the things I had once been able to do.  A traumatic brain injury in 2011 left me facing many challenges.  I forgot what fun was, what my purpose was….who I was.  But, on October 1st of this year, I stood on stage at The Hill School as part of the A Place to Be performance of The Same Sky Project and I was reminded of my purpose.   

The courageous A Will to Survive cast will be performing for thousands of high school students
The courageous A Will to Survive cast will be performing for thousands of high school students

After being unable to speak for over a year and a half, it was very cool to be able to look out into the audience that night and see my family and the community that had supported and loved me throughout my journey, to see them laughing and cheering.

Forrest’s service dog, Toliver brings him flowers during Behind the Label
Forrest’s service dog, Toliver brings him flowers during Behind the Label

About a year after my accident, I started having sessions with music therapist and APTB co-founder, Tom Sweitzer.  At first, I couldn’t do anything except just work on my breathing.  Then I began to open my hands, and start to lightly play bells, tap drums and hum.  Tom helped me to gradually turn my hums into words – it was during a session with him that I said my first two words… “Good morning.”  Since then, I have been able to participate in sessions, groups and performances, like The Same Sky Project.  APTB is an amazing place filled with love, fun and friendships.  APTB helps me, and others with difficult challenges, to grow, find their self-worth, value and then to help others find their own place to be in this world. 

 Forrest Allen and the cast of Behind the Label don’t let their labels define who they are
Forrest Allen and the cast of Behind the Label don’t let their labels define who they are

The goal is for APTB to never have to turn away a family in need and the October 1st fundraising event at The Hill School was in support of that goal!  This event was also the annual premiere performance of the Same Sky Project.

Tom Sweitzer explains, “Our Same Sky Project this year consists of two original musical productions, created in large part by and for our clients.  The first, Behind the Label is in its fifth year and has been performed for more than 25,000 middle school students, sharing its message of empathy, courage, acceptance and hope.  Entirely new this year, A Will To Survive, is an inspiring music driven Rock Opera, addressing teen depression, suicide prevention, and accepting yourself and others, no matter what challenges you face. This production will inspire and educate thousands of high school students about better ways to manage life when it just seems too hard to handle.” 

Jake Hitzges leads the cast of A Will to Survive in a song that addresses the pressures of growing up in a rapidly changing world
Jake Hitzges leads the cast of A Will to Survive in a song that addresses the pressures of growing up in a rapidly changing world

The Forrest Stone Allen Financial Aid Fund was created to provide financial support for families so that they may have the same opportunities that I have had to grow and to heal through the therapeutic arts at APTB.  Music Therapy and other art therapies are often not covered by insurance. One out of every six families at APTB is in need of some form of financial aid. The evening was a huge success due in large part to the generous support of our sponsors, The Red Fox Inn, Salamander Resort and Spa, Backstreet Catering, Emmett Design, The Hill School, Artistic Concepts and Melodee Music.

 Tom Sweitzer rocking out on the keyboard with Cedric Dimapilis on guitar in A Will to Survive
Tom Sweitzer rocking out on the keyboard with Cedric Dimapilis on guitar in A Will to Survive

For me, this event is about paying it forward, about being able to help others.  For so long, I was the one that needed intense therapies and assistance just to get through my day.  APTB was a huge part of giving me hope and taking my life back.  Now that I am stronger, I want to support other individuals and families that need help getting the services that could change their lives like it did for me. It is hard for some families to pay for the sessions and groups that they need. By the end of the October 1st event, thanks to the generosity of this community, we raised enough money to cover all of the financial aid needs at APTB for the next year! 

Cedric Dimapilis and his parents Eddie and Virginia Dimapilis. Cedric composed the music for A Will to Survive
Cedric Dimapilis and his parents Eddie and Virginia Dimapilis. Cedric composed the music for A Will to Survive

Even with this huge success, continued support is needed to keep the doors of APTB open.  We are always in need of new donors and sponsors to help spread the joy, love and laughter that APTB brings to so many lives.  So if you want to help make the magic, check out APTB.

I have another big surgery in November at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  I think it’s my 29th surgery, but I plan to be back to sing again at the APTB Holiday Recital on December 2nd.   

The mission of A Place to Be (APTB) is: Helping people face, navigate, and overcome life’s challenges using the therapeutic arts.  For more information about APTB, its programs and the populations APTB serves visit aplacetobeva.org