Reprinted with permission from the June 19 issue of THE A.D. TIMES, newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown.
Parishioner's inspirational music helps raise funds for St. Joseph
By TAMI A. QUIGLEY
Kelli Fusaro has a gift. Not the type wrapped in brightly colored paper and ribbons, but the kind that manifests in talent, shared with others to offer inspiration through Christ's message.
God, you see, has given her the gift of music through a beautiful voice and a talent for songwriting, which she shares at St. Joseph, Reading and through "Sound Expression Greetings," inspiring, musical greeting cards for special occasions. The cards have been the center of fund-raising efforts at various churches and nonprofit organizations, including St. Joseph.
Fusaro, however, is quick to give the credit to someone else.
"I feel the songs are a gift that come through me, not from me," she said.
"The inspiring message is God speaking through me, and it also gives me the strength in the music and card business to stay committed to share God's message with people," Fusaro offered.
"There's a lot in the media today that's not healthy, and I feel these cards offer messages of encouragement, peacefulness, and celebrate the spirit."
Fusaro is a graduate of West Chester University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree specializing in voice, piano and music education. She is an established vocal coach, as well as a singer/songwriter of contemporary inspirational music.
Fusaro grew up in the parish of Holy Guardian Angels, Reading and has been a parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring since her marriage. However, while in high school she became friends with Rosemarie Sullivan through SEARCH (now known as Kairos), a teenage retreat for young people to get closer to God.
Several years later the two met again, and Sullivan — who plays the guitar and directs the folk group at St. Joseph — asked Fusaro to participate. Today, Fusaro is soloist for the choir and keyboard accompanist for the folk group twice a month.
"The members of our folk group are warm and devoted to the parish. It's been a lot of fun working with them," Fusaro said.
Fusaro's songwriting can be traced to the deep love in her heart for her grandmother, who passed away Dec. 21, 1997, Fusaro's birthday.
"My grandmother was like a mother to me," Fusaro said, adding she also enjoys a close relationship with her own mother. "We spent a lot of time together. She was a warm and wonderful lady, and I was pretty devastated when she died."
Fusaro recalled her grandmother loved it when Fusaro would "bake her a little something" or bring a small present when visiting. "So I wanted to do something in tribute to her," Fusaro explained, explaining the song she wrote — "A Blessing to Me" — speaks of her whole family's view of "what a lovely person she was."
The song was recorded and played during her grandmother's funeral, and people could follow the lyrics on sheets Fusaro had printed.
"After that, I wrote about a dozen songs that first year. It was a relaxing thing to do," she said. The second song dedicated to her grandmother — "By My Voice" — received a first place award in Berks County's composition contest in 2000.
During this time, Sullivan encouraged her friend to write music for special occasions. Fusaro did, and continues to write songs she performs at St. Joseph.
In February 2002, Fusaro and Sullivan attended a Christian Music Conference in Nashville, Tenn. They met with music producer Ron Cornelius — who years ago was a guitar player with Bob Dylan — and his Cornelius Companies of Nashville produced Fusaro's first CD — "By My Voice" — in summer 2002. Many of the songs on the CD were written for special occasions, including at St. Joseph.
In February, this led Fusaro to launch Sound Expression Greetings, which may be accessed at www.soundexpressiongreetings.com.
"They're contemporary, inspirational songs," Fusaro said. For example, "Prayer of the Children" is appropriate for baptism, First Communion, get-well for children and confirmation. "Remembering Spirit" may be used as sympathy, missing you or coping with loss card.
"Mother's Hands" is a card featuring a song that relates to motherhood. "It's a song about the simple things Mary would have done taking care of Jesus," Fusaro explained, adding she sings it each Mother's Day at St. Joseph.
Fusaro revealed several years ago she attended a women's retreat where Sr. Joanne Leccese, C.P.S., read a poem about the things Mary would do for Jesus. "It was so moving, it inspired me to use the concept by relating to Mary, who was an extraordinary woman who did ordinary things," Fusaro said.
Fusaro thinks it makes sense to use the CD greeting cards as fund-raising items for churches and other nonprofits because "they're inspirational songs with a positive message."
On Easter Sunday, Fusaro sold boxed cards as a fund-raising item at St. Joseph. She then sold boxed and individual cards after weekend Masses June 7-8.
"I think Kelli's a very talented woman," said the Rev. Richard Clement, Pastor of St. Joseph. He appreciates Fusaro sharing her talents at the parish, and that the fund raising helps the parish.
The cards are also a family affair, as Fusaro's 10-year-old daughter Alanna creates the watercolor CD and card covers. "She paints her own interpretation of the songs," Fusaro said, noting Alanna appeared with her recently on QVC.
Sullivan has great appreciation for what Fusaro is doing, and feels it's great Fusaro's daughter is involved as well. "With today's hectic pace, there's often not a lot mothers and daughters do together," she said.
"Kelli's music can touch a lot of people," said Sullivan, who holds a marketing degree and has done much to help Fusaro promote her music. She does not think it was a coincidence she and Fusaro met again after several years.
She noted Fusaro left teaching music to pursue her songwriting and recording career, as well as building Sound Expressions. One of the schools where Fusaro previously taught music is Central Catholic High School, Reading.
"All things happen in God's time — not our time, but God's time," Sullivan said, alluding it was time for Fusaro to pursue this dream.
Sullivan especially likes Fusaro's song "Follow Your Heart," in which the first verse says, "Follow your heart, believe in yourself. No matter who or where you are know that God's gifts are waiting for you. It's time to trust and know that it's true."
"I wake up to that song every day on my CD alarm," Sullivan shared. "It sets the tone for the day."
Sullivan isn't the only one impressed by the song. Eighteen-year-old Christian recording artist Anissa Miano will record the song on her July debut album.
"Kelli has such a gift and talent, and now finally a way to express it. Many people can benefit," Sullivan said.
Fusaro's music is rooted in her personal experiences of love, loss, fear and thankfulness. She explains on her CD why she wrote each song, and she dedicated the song "Thankful" to Sullivan for all her help and friendship.
"That meant so much," Sullivan said.
Fusaro's accomplishments also include writing the theme song for a local walk event in 2002, and music for the original teen musical "Possibilities" in 2000.
In addition to the Sound Expression Web site, the musical greeting cards are available at Mary's Garden, Laureldale; Borders Bookstore, Wyomissing; Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Reading; The Paper Party, Shillington; Floral Studio, West Lawn; Note Pourri, West Reading; Leesport Flower and Gift Shop; Women's Exchange, West Reading; and Cloud Nine Café, West Reading.
Photo caption: Kelli Fusaro sells her CD and inspiring musical greeting cards June 8 as a fund-raising item for St. Joseph, Reading.
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