Inside the
Winter Issue:

Home Page

Growing Up
With Hunger

Fan Fare:
Randy Rossilli

Fan Fare:

Tulane, Too Soon

Journal Provides Eye Into
Food Banks’ Efforts in
Katrina’s Wake

Chapin Christmas CD
Is a Hit Throughout
The Seasons

“Doing Something”

Goat Tales

Chapin Family Marks
WHY’s 30th Anniversary
With Benefit Concerts
in New York City

Harry Chapin Celebration
Concert Review

Time to Remember

Letter to the Editor:
Elizabeth Paquette

Letter to the Editor:
Greg McCaig

Circle! Calendar

Randy Rossilli on the set with his guitar

Fan Fare
Chapin Fans Making a Difference

Randy Rossilli

by Linda Swanson

We never know when in our life, we will take a turn that will be the pivotal point, the instant that will define us for the rest of our life.

For Randy Rossilli, that moment was when he was eight years old, sitting on a crushed velvet couch on DeGraw Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Rossilli was watching “Wonderama,” the weekly Sunday morning New York-based television show for kids, hosted by Bob Macallister.

“On the show was a gentle individual who sat on a stool with a guitar in hand and captivated the attention and imagination of the young audience – including me,” said Rossilli. “That person was Harry Chapin.”

Rossilli instantly ran to his mother and told her he was going to learn how to play guitar. “Although we had a piano in the house, and I was already a fan of Billy Joel, I wanted to be able to tell stories and be intimate with an audience – a guitar playing storyteller,” he said.

On the day of Chapin’s death, Rossilli was sitting on that same couch watching the television show “Gilligan’s Island” when he heard the tragic news. “I realized, for the first time in my life, that one man could make a difference, and hoped one day I would also do so. I wanted to tell stories and make people feel better about themselves.”

And so he has.

Rossilli attended William Patterson University and majored in Communication with a focus on radio and TV production. He then earned his Master’s in Education from Seton Hall.

He then spent 13 years in public education with positions including teacher, subject supervisor, teacher trainer, central office director, and building principal. “Throughout my career I had always believed in project-based instruction, and that children learned from doing, and being actively engaged, not by passively sitting back, collecting notes, and regurgitating facts,” said Rossilli.

Over time, music became his life, but not yet his livelihood.

For several years, he was working steadily as a professional musician and writing music for adults, performing live five days a week, and doing pretty well in the local bar scene.

Then, in 1993, he was a middle school language arts teacher, when he was drawn to the beauty and freedom of writing and creating for children. “I assigned a project on narrative poetry, when a student asked me, quite innocently, what was my poem going to be about, and I said, ’You know, I will do better than that. By tomorrow, I will have not only written a poem, but I will write you a song that will fit into this assignment,’” he said.

The next day, Rossilli came in with The Ballad of Gilbert the Brave, a Harry Chapinesque story of the smallest boy in his kingdom, believing in himself, showing fortitude and achieving his goal of becoming a knight. “That song gave birth to a children’s musical, which gave me a feeling of freedom and creativity that I had never felt before,” he remembered. “I then began the development of several properties geared towards children and their families with the goal of empowering self-affirmation while entertaining.”

Harry Chapin was not the only great influence on Rossilli’s life. He remembers the day he heard about the death of Frederick McFeely Rogers, better known as the children’s television show host “Mr. Rogers.”

“That day, the world lost the last man on television telling children that they mattered – who told them, without conditions, that they were special – who empowered them with a sense of self worth and affirmation – messages and gifts they may not have received from anyone else,” he said. It was then that Rossilli began to review his own life and decided he should focus his energies on providing children with the kinds of messages Rogers shared.

“I was spending an inordinate amount of time watching other people’s children doing things, attending countless nighttime meetings and programs pertaining other people’s children, and would spend many nights when I was home developing curriculum, budgets and programs for other people’s children,” he noted. “I was getting concerned about the quality of time I was getting with my wife and daughters.”

Then he recalled the Harry Chapin interview where Harry discussed being “good tired.” “I was truly not good tired. I was just plain old tired - fighting other people’s battles and living other people’s dreams,” he said.

His wife Jenny challenged him to follow his dreams of affecting children everywhere with positive messages. “She said, ’Make it your life, not your mid-life crisis,’” he remembered.

Rossilli then made a conscious decision to follow the dream he had – as an eight year old boy growing up in Newark – to tell children stories and hopefully empower them with the same ability to dream as Harry’s music did for him – and to pursue a life of “good tired.” That day, he began creating his own television property called My Backyard.

Each series of My Backyard consists of a DVD, CD and book that provides educational opportunities, language development, arts, science, humor, and esteem-building messages to children ages two to six. They encourage creativity and the concept that caring, compassionate individuals can make a difference in the world. “I speak with children, not at them,” he explained. “My ultimate goal is to touch as many families as I can, reminding them how important it is to communicate, develop character, self esteem and strong morals.”

Rossilli uses nurturing, enriching language, never words such as hate, stupid, dumb or afraid. “In My Backyard, the message is ’I believe in you. You matter,’” he said. “For some children, this may be the only time they hear these words.”

The Dentist DVD and book Hippo’s Toothache allow a child to discover that taking a trip to the dentist doesn’t have to be scary. The book Elephant’s Rescue and accompanying DVD Animal Rescue teaches compassion and awareness of wildlife preservation, while Giraffe’s Sore Throat and the Pediatrician DVD explore a visit to the pediatrician’s office. Each series also comes with a CD of original toe tapping music called Songs From My Backyard. Clips of the videos and music can be viewed on Randy’s Website

In true Chapin spirit, Rossilli had chosen to give back to the community. Each episode of My Backyard hosts a guest and a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of that episode go to the charity of the guest’s choice. So far, those charities include providing dental care to under privileged children, funding child adoption and contributing to the rescue and care of avian wildlife. Rossilli’s wife coordinates this benevolent effort.

Randy Rossilli with his wife Jenny, youngest daughter Megan, and daughter Jessica.

My Backyard is truly a family effort, with input from everyone. Rossilli sings, writes, directs and plays eight musical instruments for the show. He hand crafts the puppets, but before they or any of his songs are put into the program, they must first pass the test of his daughters, Jessica, 5, and Megan, 3, for authenticity, believability, educational and entertainment value. His wife Jenny, a Speech Pathologist, provides insight and is his “conscious and voice of reason.” Even his dog, Jasmine, was inspirational in creating the song Jasmine, Where Are My Shoes?

The realization of Rossilli ’s dream has afforded his family with many opportunities they were missing before. He now can make time to coach his daughter’s soccer team and watch their ballet lessons. He takes them to school every day and is home for dinner each night; something he was unable to do when he was “bad tired.”

“We lose our childlike playfulness when we become an adult. Regarding work, I say do it till its not fun anymore, then do something else or make it fun,” Rossilli said. “My whole life is leisure now.”

Though he rises very early in the morning and works many hours each day, he still makes time for play.

“The pursuit of this dream and this business has been one of great highs and emotional uncertainties, however, it is the best experience I have had in my professional life,” he said. With communication and planning, Rossilli said his family had developed a plan that has afforded them more quality time together and more productive time apart.

“When we go to sleep at night, I know I have fought fights and perspired in battles that were for me and my children, with the hopes that in the near future my self-esteem building music, television programs, DVDs and other properties will help other people’s children meet their potential,” he added. “My freedom to experience this is a reward that no six figure salary, benefits and job security can match. As Harry would say – or his grandfather said, I am now living a life of good tired.”

Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on March 7