When it came time to end his tenure on the board at Feed Lake Highlands, Stuart Sides had his eye out for another organization making a difference in the lives of his neighbors. KidLinks was perfect harmony for his do-gooder’s heart and his rock-and-roll soul.
By day, Sides has had a long and distinguished career in sales and leadership, but few in Lake Highlands recognize him without a guitar in his hand. He and wife Lisa were members of the contemporary praise band at Lake Highlands United Methodist Church, and he’s an original member of The Lupners, the rock and pop cover band playing clubs and events around the metroplex.
KidLinks is a North Texas-based nonprofit that provides therapeutic music entertainment and music therapy programs for children and families. Jim Newton founded Hugworks almost 40 years ago with help from his friend Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” from Peter, Paul and Mary.
“They’re just big guys with big hearts who wanted to do something great for kids,” says Kelly Kemp from KidLinks. “They worked with the music therapy department, roaming the halls of children’s hospitals with a few guys and a few guitars. After a few years they merged with the KidLinks Foundation.”
Performers work with music therapists to create specialized lyrics, so all the songs have positive, consistent messaging for children. They’ve also developed a significant library of multimedia resources accessible by therapists, school counselors, parents and children at no charge. Titles range from silly (“A Pair O’ Barracuda” and “Fuzzy Wuzzy”) to encouraging (“Start at the Start” and “Let a Little Light Shine”).
Sides is retired now from the LHUMC praise band, but he still performs regularly with The Lupners at charity events and area hotspots. He never studied music formally, but instead picked it up when his cool older brother let him hang around.
“Ricky played acoustic guitar when I was 9, and I just always had an ear for it and a knack for it. That’s how I did it all my life – I just played on my own. Then Lisa and I met in the acapella choir (as students) at Lake Highlands High School.”
“A lot of lightbulbs went off for me when I learned about KidLinks’ mission,” says Sides. “Obviously the music piece, but also the chance to serve on a board that speaks to personal gifts. Music has the power to impact people directly. I’m a sales guy and a music guy, so there are a lot of reasons I felt like I could contribute.”
KidLinks began small and initially focused on young children, but they’re expanding to reach larger numbers and kids of all ages. One child was unable to speak before his introduction to KidLinks’ music therapy. Soon, he was singing.
“KidLinks has been great therapy for kids with autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges and other issues, but we can’t just limit it to that,” says Sides. “We want to share the benefits widely.”
“These music resources have positive messages for children who’ve experienced bullying, anxiety, the death of a family member or other emotions a kid might struggle to deal with,” agrees Kemp. “The songs are fun and interactive, and the kids might not even realize there’s a message attached.”
“If you get out of your own way, you can see what music does in a worship setting,” says Sides. “Seeing this now, and seeing what Jim Newton has done to impact kids’ lives in a therapeutic way, has made me excited to see how we can expand to improve the lives of children. At the heart of it, it’s the power of music in a pure way to improve someone’s life.”
KidLinks is hosting their 12th annual Symphony of Chefs Feb. 28, with more than 20 of Dallas’ top chefs creating a one-of-a-kind culinary experience at SMU’s Armstrong Fieldhouse. The event will feature live entertainment, live and silent auctions, wine tastings and a personal chef for each table. Lake Highlands’ own Salvatore Gisellu, owner of Urban Crust, Urban Rio and Urban Seafood, is honorary chef and chair emeritus. Event co-chairs are Lisa and Stuart Sides and Christina and Chase Sanders. Tickets are $1,500 each, and you may register to bid online for auction items here.
If you’d like to help KidLinks, you may donate online here. A gift of $65 will provide one music therapy session, $300 will pay for child-size instruments for hospital sing-a-longs, $1,000 will sponsor a music festival at a special care center and $4,500 will fund the recording of 3 new songs. If you’ve got a little musical talent and you’re willing to undergo training to share it with children, email firstname.lastname@example.org.