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Acts of Hope

Featured Photo from Acts of Hope

Local musicians rally to help families in need

Elizabeth Harger and her young daughter, Hannah, were in crisis. It was December 2017, and Hannah – then a fifth grader with a fighting spirit – was facing her third grueling battle with cancer.

Hannah was first diagnosed with bilateral kidney cancer when she was 21 months old, resulting in the removal of her left kidney and part of the right. At age nine, she relapsed, and doctors removed more of her right kidney.

By the third go-round, the cancer had spread, which meant surgery to remove more of Hannah’s right kidney and half of a lung. With her daughter’s life hanging in the balance, a distraught and desperate Elizabeth made a public plea requesting prayers for Hannah’s survival.

Prayers and positive thoughts flowed in from friends, family, and complete strangers. But that’s not all. The Hargers’ plight led to the creation of a local program called ACTS of Hope.

ACTS is an acronym for Assisting Community Through Service. The program uses the power of music to raise funds and awareness for local individuals and families with urgent and ongoing needs, like the Hargers.

Organizers held a 24-hour jam-a-thon for the mother and daughter, with musicians playing at several venues throughout the community. Elizabeth, a single mom, had taken a leave of absence from work to focus on caring for Hannah. As a result, the family was saddled with mounting bills and the possible loss of their home – until they received a check from ACTS of Hope.
“There are no words for my gratitude for what they did,” says Elizabeth, who grew up in Oviedo and now lives in Winter Springs. “It was absolutely beautiful.”

Happily, 12-year-old Hannah is doing well these days. The seventh grader’s most recent medical tests showed no signs of cancer, her mom says.

Pete Prochnow, Nikki Peters, and Kate Matson – who all live in the Oviedo-Winter Springs area – are the driving forces behind ACTS of Hope. To date, they’ve helped more than a dozen Central Florida families, primarily by paying for medical expenses such as insurance deductibles and intensive physical therapy sessions. Several of the families who’ve received assistance have children with illnesses for which there is no cure, such as spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“The goal is just to give the families some hope,” says Pete, a Grammy-nominated pianist.

Nikki, a singer and guitarist, dreams that the program will spread to other communities, with ACTS of Hope chapters eventually springing up around the country. But for now, she’s focused on bolstering the local work ACTS of Hope              already does.

“The first thing we need to do is build our musician base so that we can add to our events and help more families,” Nikki says.
Currently, several professional musicians with impressive credentials regularly volunteer their time and talent to further the program’s mission. Typically, ACTS of Hope events are held in casual settings such as local wine bars and restaurants, with the musicians playing cover songs in a variety of genres. In September, Nikki, Pete, and a few other musicians performed at a 12-hour jam-a-thon to benefit a family whose daughter was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy.

At most venues, ACTS of Hope is allowed to solicit donations from the public.

“People are always so excited to help and are thankful that we’re there,” Nikki says.

At the September fundraiser, the audience’s generosity was apparent even before the musicians took the stage.
“I had a lady give a $200 check, and we hadn’t played a note yet!” Pete says.

But no matter how much money the program raises, Kate says it’s often just a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering bills these individuals and families face.

“ACTS of Hope is about more than just financial assistance,” says Kate. “We’ve heard from people that this program has brought them back from a dark place, knowing that there are others who really do care about them and a community that supports them.”

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