Aiming for the summit — ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ benefit aims to help wounded Ukrainian soldiers with new limbs
Even though vocalist Elisabeth von Trapp and acoustic guitarist Peppino D’Agostino are globally recognized, respected and much-loved artists, and their respective talents would probably blend magically, the idea that they’d perform together isn’t necessarily the first thing a booking agent would think about.
Nonetheless — and for the best possible reasons — they’ll share the stage Sunday in New London’s St. James’ Episcopal Church at a charity concert called “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The event benefits Operation Renew Prosthetics (OPR), a national organization that actively provides prosthetics here in the U.S. for severely wounded Ukrainian soldier amputees. The soldiers are brought to Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics in Silver Springs, Md., for surgery and care because the facilities don’t exist in Ukraine -- which in any case isn’t sufficiently stable for sustained treatment.
This local effort is co-produced by Lisbon couple Bob and Maria D’Amelia, who are members of the St. James parish. Bob is a retired electrical engineer and Maria is director of human resources for the Town of Montville and both are also friends with D’Agostino and von Trapp as well as Bill Endicott, the co-founder of OPR and a former U.S. Olympic rowing and canoeing coach who’s worked with several top international athletes.
Vocalists from the Anglican Singers and the St. James and St. Ann’s Choirs will also appear at the benefit as well as Endicott. All net proceeds from the event will go to support OPR.
Meant to be
The D’Amelias were at another charity event last August and Maria was talking to Endicott when he told her about the new OPR foundation.
“‘Hold on!’ Maria told Bill. She ran across the room and grabbed me and said, ‘You have to hear this,’” Bob D’Amelia says by phone earlier this week. “What Bill was describing resonated instantly. Like millions of Americans, we’d been wringing our hands in front of the TV at the horrors in Ukraine, wondering what would be the best way we could help. And the idea of providing prosthetic limbs for these soldiers was like a magnetic force that suddenly channeled our wishes.”
Endicott is a longtime friend of Michael Corcoran, a former elite Irish rower who went on to become a prosthetist and is CEO of the Maryland-based Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics (MCOP). The company has worked with over 1,100 amputees including U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Endicott and Corcoran wanted to do something to help the efforts in Ukraine, and the idea of providing prosthetic limbs for wounded Ukranian soldiers seemed a natural and logical opportunity. ORP was born.
Endicott remembers the party last August when he mentioned the organization to the D’Amelias — and he definitely remembers their reactions.
“I think a lot of people want to do something to help Ukraine, but they don’t have a way of helping,” Endicott says Tuesday from Washington D.C. “That’s what Bob and Maria told me last summer, and I told them what I was starting to do with ORP. Bob terms this something like ‘an avenue for converting anxiety into action,’ and I know that’s what it’s been like for me, too.”
A lot of serendipity
Last fall, the D’Amelias went to Silver Springs and visited MCOP. They met patient and Ukrainian Soldier Oleksandr Chaika, an athlete, choreographer, acrobatics coach and teacher who joined the Ukrainian military shortly after the Russian invasion. Chaika was deployed to the Luhansk region where he lost his leg to an explosive.
“It was a privilege to meet Oleksandr and his wife, as well as the surgeon and a translator,” D’Amelia says. “They’re wonderful people and heroic. It was very inspiring. Similarly, what they’re doing at MCOP is amazing. The situation is too hot in Ukraine, so they recently opened a clinic in Malta to shorten the distance and treat more soldiers. The cost would be half. Ultimately, the goal would be to have a clinic in Ukraine, and they’re scouting buildings.”
Locally, the D’Amelias went to work organizing Sunday’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” event. That they’re longtime friends with both D’Agostino and von Trapp was as fortuitous as the relationships were happy accidents.
Friends in high places
Maria D’Amelia, a longtime fan of Austin guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson, had gotten to know him after attending so many of his shows over the years. When he came to the Ridgefield Playhouse on his 2010 Guitar Masters tour, Johnson introduced her to one of the co-headliners — who happened to be D’Agostino. A new friendship was born; Bob D’Amelia, an amateur guitarist, ended up taking one of D’Agostino’s master classes.
In similarly random fashion, the D’Amelias met von Trapp after taking their daughter to the family’s ski resort in Stowe, Vt., when she was a child. When there was a bit of height anxiety at the top of a ski slope, Elisabeth von Trapp materialized and helped the child gain confidence and make it down the mountain. Once again, an enduring relationship started. Over the years, despite possessing what he calls a less than operatic voice, Bob D’Amelia found himself in choirs backing von Trapp.
“When I was singing behind her — and I had no business being on the same stage — her for voice was so beautiful and crystalline pure,” D’Amelia says.
As early as 2018, the D’Amelias thought of von Trapp and D’Agostino in the context of performing together for an event, but COVID thwarted the original idea. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” though, presented a new opportunity.
Making it happen
D’Amelia says, “The thought of Elizabeth singing and Peppino playing – together – was irresistible.And she’s a very fine guitarist, as well. I reached out to Peppino first and then Elisabeth. And the response from each was immediate: Let’s make this happen.”
In an email, D’Agostino writes, “I'm so glad and honored to perform with such a great artist! We've chosen to perform together uplifting and meaningful songs and hopefully touch the audience's hearts. We've never met each other (but) I'm looking forward to collaborating and performing with her.”
As for the reason for the performance, D’Agostino says, “I was really impressed with the courage and strength of these wounded Ukrainian soldiers and the dedication of the doctors and nurses at the Medical Center for Orthotics and Prosthetics. The center gives another chance at life to these soldiers – and it's an honor for me to be able to help and contribute with my music to this cause.”
In addition to arranging top of the line talent, the D’Amilias say they’re overwhelmed by support from the public and local businesses. Both Rich Cersosimo, the retired owner of Pasta Vita in Old Saybrook, and Elle Englander, owner of Manufaktura USA — an Enfield-based importer of artistic Polish stoneware with two shops in Mystic and one in Watch Hill — are significant and enthusiastic sponsors of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” D’Amelia says.
“Their help has been huge, but by no means all. So many people have opened their checkbooks and contributed,” he says. “You realize that, as long as people have capacity to do harm, atrocities like the war in Ukraine will go on. But the opposite is that so many people want to do good — and this event has enabled us to find that a lot of good people want to be part of the solution.”
“OBP has gotten quite a lot of national press attention,” Endicott says, “and more and more people are finding out about us. And I do find that as most American hear about Ukraine from the point of view of specific people who are wounded, they’re very sympathetic.
“But you know what really surprises me? It was the Ukrainian soldiers telling me they are amazed by the reception they’re getting from average Americans when they get here. Yes, they know the U.S. government is heavily involved in helping Ukraine. But they didn’t realize average Americans are so anxious to help. They see Ukrainian flags in front of peoples houses here and are overwhelmed.”
What: “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a concert benefitting Operation Renew Prosthetics
Who: Elisabeth von Trapp, Peppino D’Agostino, Bill Endicott and members of the Anglican Singers and St. James and St. Ann’s Choirs
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: St. James Episcopal Church, 76 Federal St., New London
How much: $45
To get tickets and for more information: www.bit.ly/Climb031223
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