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Deborah Lee Olney, 8, was diagnosed with stage four medulloblastoma brain cancer and has been in remission for five years. The Something Bigger Than Yourself organization gave Olney a guitar decorated by founder Jay Lipe. Originally organized primarily as a service to children’s homes, Something Bigger has also begun reaching out to senior citizens and sick children. Using the guitar, Olney wrote a song and posted it on Facebook.
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Something Bigger Than Yourself founder Jay Lipe.
As soon as Jay Lipe sits down to talk about his efforts reaching out to hurting children, he gets a message through Facebook.
“I so admire all you do for children’s homes and kiddos’ families that may be in need,” the message says. “Can I send you a donation to help just a little?”
After all these years, a message like that still gets Lipe excited, and he has to stop the interview long enough to reply. To say his holiday season is always hectic would be an understatement. As the creator of Something Bigger Than Yourself, much of his time is spent on his phone, shopping for the best deals for gifts and collecting donations.
A lifelong musician, he also will be tuning up his bass. Beginning at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12 at 300 State St. in Alton, the Something Bigger Than Yourself concert will feature bands Sifastic, Hideous Gentlemen, Gemini Hustler, Cottonmouth, Dead Planet, Sandwich Band, and Lipe’s own group, Jay Brook Lipe and the Terrible Twos.
Lipe says popular local band Agents of the Free are fully behind his effort, but whether they play is up in the air, as band member Ryan Grant is dealing with health issues and may be unable to perform.
While there is no cover for the Dec. 12 concert, the evening is the perfect time to donate to the cause, as Lipe will soon after begin his journey to visit children’s homes scattered around the Midwest, dropping off kickballs, giving impromptu music lessons, and letting the kids know someone is out there who cares.
Beginning in 2008, Lipe started Something Bigger Than Yourself, an organization designed to provide holiday dinners, musical and sporting equipment, and plenty of smiles to less fortunate children, both locally and out of state.
“(That first year), I drove by the Catholic Children’s Home in Alton, and I realized there were children spending the night there on Christmas,” Lipe says. “It made my problems seem so much smaller.
“I took my daughter shopping and she picked out toys left and right, and we delivered them to the children’s home.”
Lipe continues to collect rhythm and bass guitars, drum kits, amplifiers and other music equipment along with footballs, soccer balls, skateboards, Frisbees and more, delivering the bounty to children’s homes in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and other places throughout the country.
This year, the family of Sarah Caitlyn Shaw, a 20-year-old who died last year in a car wreck, has donated her personal guitar to the cause as well, along with a message to never text and drive.
“Some of these kids have been sexually abused, most have been beaten down, and many are being hidden from their own families for their safety,” Lipe says. “When they come into the room, many see what we have there for them and still do not smile. But I tell you this, when we are done performing for them, spend time with them, and they find out they get to keep what we brought for them, it is hard to find a child there without a big grin on their face.”
Last year, children’s homes receiving donations include Catholic Children’s Home in Alton, Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services of Missouri in Farmington, Mo., Illinois Masonic Children’s Home in Murphysboro, Ill., Children’s Home Association of Illinois in Peoria, Ill., Marygrove in Florissant, Mo., St. Joseph Children’s Home in Louisville, Ky., and Hope Children’s Home in Jackson, Mo. This year, Lipe has added the Denver Children’s Home in Denver to the list.
The facilities received sports and musical equipment and a holiday dinner for the children. In seven of those homes, Lipe also set up music rooms.
“Some of them reached out to tell us that music helped the children to communicate in ways that words could not,” Lipe says. “It was crucial when it came to some of the kids opening up. It’s interesting to see how people deal with neglect. Some are quiet, some are loud … but they are all hurting.”
This year, Lipe will take kids from the Alton home to dinner on Dec. 19.
In addition to the children, many of whom have seen violence and a loss of innocence in place of compassion, Lipe says his organization is a chance to help those who may not even realize what is missing from their lives.
“During the holidays, people get depressed,” he says. “It’s not what they thought it would be, or they miss loved ones who are gone.
“Live in today, help someone else and it will alleviate your own problems, I promise. I have seen hundreds of people touched through this organization, not just as recipients, but as volunteers.”
Although it is a corporation as of last year, Something Bigger Than Yourself is still at its core a one-man operation.
“Basically, this is me and anyone else who wants to help that year,” Lipe says. “There is constantly a demand, because these kids really use this equipment. It gets beaten pretty good in a year’s time.
“I am currently looking for someone to back this. It is about more than profit; this is a business of the heart. If you change one life, you change the social condition. This has become something bigger than Jay. My dream is for this to become a nonstop entity. This is from my heart, and I love it.
“I just need help.”
Something Bigger is one branch of a five-fold ministry that Lipe envisions, reaching out to those with terminal illness, mental disabilities, physical disabilities, children and senior citizens.
2014 marked the enactment of the Capitola Fund, named after Lipe’s grandmother, Capitola Lipe, providing flowers and chocolate to nursing home residents as a reminder they also are important and loved.
Last year, with the help of donations from Bissinger’s Chocolates in St. Louis, Lipe was able to give out nine chocolate turkeys to each children’s home and also passed out 700 chocolate Santas to the residents of seven local retirement communities and nursing homes.
Over the past year, Lipe has also provided guitars, skateboards, and other gifts to children battling life-threatening diseases.
“There are more homes for the elderly, more sick kids, more children’s homes, and more hurting young people than I can possibly visit in my lifetime,” Lipe says. “My goal, though, is to try.
“All I want is for these kids to have a chance that other children have.”
WHERE TO DONATE: Donations by check can be dropped off at the U.S. Bank branch at 1520 Washington Ave. in Alton and S and S Sandwich Shop at 2505 State Street in Alton. Monetary donations, along with any musical and sports equipment, can be dropped off at Halpin Music at 2375 Homer Adams Parkway in Alton.
HOW TO VOLUNTEER: Anyone interested in volunteering can call (618) 567-6785. More information is available at www.somethingbiggerthanyourself.com.