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David’s Fund Continues Support of Valley Home Care's Music Therapy Program


“Music helps us connect parts of us even when language can’t,” explains Jennifer Knittel, Board Certified Music Therapist for Valley Hospice. “In hospice care, even when it appears someone is having a passive response, music is still actively working its way through their body systems.” Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Launched at Valley in 2018 with a philanthropic gift from David’s Fund, Music Therapy is a beloved and integral program for those navigating end-of-life care. 

Established in 1996 by Tom and Lucy Ott in loving memory of their son David, David’s Fund is devoted to supporting the advancement of the field of music therapy. When brain damage from encephalitis left David with severe physical disabilities, he remained upbeat; when he could no longer play piano and tuba, music continued to bring him peace and joy as a form of therapy. After David passed in 1994, the fund was created to help others discover and know the joys and therapeutic benefits of music.  

It was a dear friend’s stay at Valley that inspired the Otts’ partnership. After enjoying a visit from the hospital’s volunteer harpist, the Otts arranged to have their friend visited by the harpist again when they made the transition to home hospice care. After a conversation with Valley Home Care’s (VHC) Bonnie Schneider, MSW, LCSW, Manager of Social Services, Tom and Lucy made a donation that allowed Valley to introduce a music therapy program for home care patients on VHC’s hospice service. Jennifer Knittel has led the program since the beginning, and estimates that she has made over 600 hospice visits since November 2018. “Jennifer has been a real guiding force behind all of this,” remarks Tom. “She’s a remarkable therapist and has done a great job demonstrating the benefits of music therapy. She’s really one-of-a-kind.”

The Otts remain committed to the Music Therapy Program’s success. Now beginning its fifth year, the program has inspired additional philanthropic support, and continues to be incorporated into patient care at Valley Hospice as well as Butterflies, a pediatric in-home palliative and hospice care program. With the continued support of David's Fund, staff can utilize music therapy more frequently and increase the number of patients and families seen,” explains Bonnie Schneider. “The funds will also allow for the expansion of education to staff on how music therapy can benefit not just our patients, but caretakers and loved ones as well.”

Testimonials over the years from Valley patients and families speak directly to profound impact music therapy has had. “From the first time Jennifer came over, it was just transformative,” says Connie Wasmer, whose husband Jack received home hospice care. “After not being able to communicate for close to a year, I saw Jack mouth the words to songs he recognized, I was shocked! Jennifer was just wonderful, and one of the best things that happened while Jack was on hospice. She did so much for both of us.” Reflecting on her work, Jennifer Knittel is grateful. “It’s amazing to see how music can still connect people,” Knittel says. “If we can bring enjoyment to a hospice patient and their family, that’s the greatest moment. I can’t believe this is my job, it’s really special.”

Irene Mason and music therapist Jennifer Knittel