Local musician’s song reaches nationwide audience for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day

A song by local musician Chad Van Herk has gained widespread attention as part of the worldwide observation of World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, which took place Friday, March 21.

The song, “A Smile for Everyone," was written by First Farmers Bank of Culver's bank manager Van Herk for his nephew Keel Allen, who has Down's Syndrome.

The song, and accompanying video, are being promoted by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS, at www.ndss.org) for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. One hundred percent of the profits from song downloads will be donated to the NDSS, says Van Herk, who notes the song is available for download on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere.

"The song came naturally with inspiration by my nephew Keel, and it wrote itself," says Van Herk, who already has gained a widespread following via rotation of his music at the popular streaming music website Pandora, and a highly visible music video shot in California a few years ago. "I was merely looking back at the impact his surprise made on our family in general, and more precisely on my sister and brother-in-law (Don). It was a difficult transition with a sharp learning curve but the simple fact was and is that he is a happy and healthy child, and he certainly does put a smile on our faces. We are all eager to stand by him now and over the years to come simply because he is so pleasant and endearing."

Keel's mother, Sandi Allen, familiar to some in the area for leading classes at Culver Academies' fitness center, notes that Chad debuted the song last year at a fundraiser for Freedom Park (a park for kids with special needs in Plymouth).

"When I heard the song I thought it was wonderful," she adds. "It put into words some of the emotions that my husband and I felt when our son Keel was born. We were worried about how we would deal with Keel's disabilities and were scared about what his future and our future would be like but in a relatively short period of time we realized that our worries were extremely exaggerated. He is a wonderful little boy who can truly put a smile on anyone's face. Keel has taught us so much in so little time. Our eyes and ears have opened to people and pieces of life that we were blind and deaf to before he came into our lives."

Not too long ago, Sandi adds, as she was listening to Chad's song and thinking about the feelings and emotions her family had when Keel was born, she found herself wishing to hear the song again.

"I spoke with Chad to ask him if he would be willing to share it with the world, and especially people who have a family member with Down Syndrome or perhaps have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome when pregnant. His song may bring joy and comfort to a family member or new mother or father. Chad said 'Yes' and went beyond that to say, 'Let's donate the proceeds to a group that supports people with Down Syndrome.' We decided that the National Down Syndrome Society was that group."

For his part, Van Herk acknowledges he's "a bit nervous" about the song and video being used by the NDSS for World Downs Syndrome Day, but adds, "They are both bigger than me and my self-criticisms now, and they have a life of their own as they are being shared by hundreds of watchers and listeners. My only hope is that it winds up benefiting the NDSS in a way that satisfies my sister and, of course, I hope listeners enjoy the song!"

He adds that he hopes all readers will share the video and/or song with as many people they can.

"A donation to the NDSS made up entirely of 99 cent downloads only benefits the organization if many, many people make the purchase," he notes. "We knew this going in, and we continue to be hopeful that the video will be shared by the viewers, possibly going 'viral' in one way or another. The sky is the limit if we truly have succeeded in producing an appealing song and video."

Either way, Sandi Allen feels the song will make an impact.

"I believe that the donations that come from Chad and anyone who purchases the song is a blessing," she says, "but that the message within the song’s lyrics is the biggest blessing"