Jim Newton: Bringing Musical Hope and Healing with KidLinks

Published on January 22, 2021 at 9:24am.
Story by Kira Woodfield Leeper. Photos courtesy of KidLinks.

In 1983 Jim Newton performed with his guitar for a group of kids at what is now Nationwide Children’s hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Playing children’s music was not Jim’s career, nor even his interest. Having studied theology and philosophy in college, Jim was a musician at heart and typically performed at church gigs. Jim intended for the hospital performance to be a one-off temporary departure from his typical adult worship-based sets. Feeling inadequate and nervous he tentatively agreed to the gig. After the last note of the performance, he was packing up when he was summoned down the hall to the room of a little boy who was losing his battle with cancer. He had been too ill to attend the group performance. Feeling out of place and ill-prepared to be bedside with a chronically ill child, Jim nervously agreed.

Jim Newton, Founder, KidLinks

Jim Newton, Founder, KidLinks

He strummed his guitar singing a song for the little boy who upon its completion, gave no response. Unsure how to proceed and uncomfortable in the silence, Jim started playing again. Slowly, the boy’s face shifted into a smile, his mother started crying. Things changed for Jim that day after the boys’ mother confided in him he had not expressed joy in weeks but Jim’s music had allowed him the space in this hard time to feel joy again. This launched a passion in Jim to use the gift of music therapeutically. He was not at the time a career musician, nor a trained music therapist, but he says he “felt a divine desire and mandate to serve, give and receive grace” through music.

After several iterations and partnerships, Jim now leads this work as the Founder of KidLinks. KidLinks Foundation is focused on “linking kids to healing, hope, and happiness through music and media.” Jim and KidLinks together believe that every child has a special need, but that some are more obvious than others. There are two therapeutic programs housed within KidLinks. The original program is a performance-based experience to meet the mental and emotional needs of children. This program, Therapeutic Music Entertainment (TME), provides experiences both live and through online resources that focus on building character and emotional resilience through song. Designed initially for children staying in hospitals, through their online platform and recorded works can reach children in a variety of circumstances including those at home with their families.

Jim began developing the therapeutic musical experience content with Paul Hill, a friend and composer. Together they recognized that there were many children’s music artists, but there was room to create something that met the specific needs of kids facing illness, trauma, loss, or hardship. Jim wanted to write and perform music that spoke to these unique childhood needs, so he established a review board of child life specialists, music therapists, and early childhood professors who volunteer their time. The review board approves the content of all published materials and works for KidLinks. 

Because of an existing online presence and database of songs on their website through a platform called the “Playground”, Kidlinks was uniquely poised to easily pivot to online services during the onset and continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Families can access KidLinks songs in both Spanish and English for free online and streamed through common streaming apps such as Spotify or Soundcloud. 

When in-person facilitation of their therapeutic music experiences halted they were able to augment their standing online presence to engage an even broader audience than before through social media. While KidLinks maintains the belief that in-person musical experiences and therapy provide the most impact, screens are a part of our digital world and they aim to meet kids where they are through the utilization of digital platforms. 

The other half of the KidLinks program involved direct music therapy services. KidLinks employs board-certified music therapists that help clients to achieve nonmusical goals such as speech development or fine motor skills through the use of music. 

Carter on his 5th birthday.

Carter on his 5th birthday.

Ally and Gerald Tarleton and their son Carter have worked with KidLinks Music therapists for the past three years. Diagnosed with non-verbal autism Carter’s family learned of KidLinks through a referral from their speech therapist. After receiving Carter’s diagnosis of non-verbal autism Ally and Gerald mourned the life they thought they’d have and the heart-wrenching reality of never hearing their child call them Mom and Dad. Things shifted after starting music therapy. They discovered although Carter couldn’t talk, he began singing songs he learned in therapy. Ally says of the experience, “Music therapy and KidLinks gave him his voice.” 

Carter’s therapist used songs to work on Carter’s speech development. “It gives you hope, there’s hope for his development and not only hope but evidence of the development, there’s a foundation out there…for families like ours,” says Gerald. Currently therapeutic sessions are occurring virtually but staff and families are looking forward to resuming in-person sessions and the growth of the program. KidLinks also aims to be a resource to other music therapists and hosts a variety of resources for therapists also on their website.

KidLinks invites the community to engage with them through their online platform, Playground, a treasure trove of resources for skills-based learning and regulation through song. Jim is thankful for his connections here in Dallas that have made the growth of this program possible. First United Methodist Church in Hurst shares space for their direct music therapy services and growing partnerships with SMU Music Therapy Department provides a reciprocal partnership of facility and music therapy student mentorship. KidLinks can best be supported through donations to their program costs to keep services free (Music Therapy is free for the first six months) and then scaled based on the financial needs of program participants.

Consider supporting KidLinks by attending Symphony of Chefs by Design fundraiser on March 22. Guests will enjoy a chef prepared & interactive four-course dinner, wine pairings from some of the world’s best vineyards, a silent and live auction of experiences and much more! Whether you prefer to dine in the private dining room of a restaurant, host a chef-prepared experience at your home or enjoy an interactive virtual chef cooking class and dinner, you can design the experience that you want to have! Symphony of Chefs by Design will include all of the unique elements guests have come to enjoy annually and provide three thoughtful celebration options for the 2021 experience.

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