Jeff and Jessica Ell are a match made in philanthropy: You could say they literally found the keys to a happy marriage at a dueling pianos fundraiser to benefit Tu Nidito in 2012.
“We actually met when we worked together planning the first dueling pianos, so it is very near and dear to our hearts,” said Jessica, who teamed up with her husband to co-chair the event last year and will do so again with an encore fundraiser Sept. 7 at Site 17 Event Center, 840 E. 17th St.
Jeff said the distinctive event has been a big hit in the past, and the couple has high expectations again this year.
“We love the excitement and energy of piano bars, and we don’t have a piano bar here, so this is a unique opportunity to bring this form of entertainment to Tucson, all while raising money for a great cause,” he said.
The event will feature two baby grand pianos, each with a top-notch entertainer who will play requested in songs exchange for tips. The audience can pool tips to increase the likelihood that a song of choice will be played; all tips benefit Tu Nidito.
Jeff said the repertoire encompasses all genres, including country, pop, classic rock, Top 40s and hits from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
“It is such a unique entertaining experience ... the piano players are playing songs that everyone knows and everyone is singing along. They always play songs differently and the crowd reacts differently, so even if they are playing the same song it is a different experience because of the interactions with the crowd. It is just so much fun,” Jeff said.
Adriana Rincon can attest to that.
“My favorite song was ‘Bennie and the Jets.’ If they had let me, I would have danced on the pianos,” said Rincon, the incoming president of the board of directors for Tu Nidito.
Rincon also views the event as an opportunity for the community to come together behind an organization that serves people of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds with its mission to ensure that no child grieves alone.
Last year, the nonprofit provided emotional, social and educational support to 860 children and their families through one-on-one and group-based services designed for children, young adults and families grieving the death of a loved one or the diagnosis of a serious medical condition.
Additionally, the organization offers outreach to provide grief education and support for educators, social workers, day-care providers and other professionals so that bereaved children feel supported .
Services are offered in English and Spanish; all services are free.
Rincon and her family understand the value of the programs: She and her husband, Jose, and their children experienced the isolation that grief can cause when their son, Jose Jr., was killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
“The thing about grief is that you feel so lonely; you feel like you are the only one in this household. Tu Nidito brings children together so they don’t feel so alone and abnormal. You are in a circle talking with other children or other parents and realize with just a look that they understand what you are feeling and the general public doesn’t get that,” she said.
More than 575 volunteers help to facilitate Tu Nidito programs and support groups, and Rincon wants to continue to grow that network. She is gratified that many volunteers and board members are so committed to the cause that they sit in on support groups to better understand the needs of the children and families who are dealing with serious illness and death.
“So many board members, besides being wise stewards of finances for the organization and guiding the staff, are in the trenches, so to speak, to see what these families are facing and to understand the fears and emotions of our children,” she said.
The Ells hope the dueling pianos show, which seeks to raise at least $25,000, will serve as an additional opportunity to expand the Tu Nidito network. Jeff said that audience collaboration and interaction make the event fun and exciting for everyone who attends.
Ultimately, Rincon hopes the light-hearted fundraiser for a nonprofit dedicated to helping people endure loss will also encourage the public to find moments of joy .
“We are from all walks of life, in a circle around the pianos with everyone singing and having a great time. We can use a little more of that in this political climate — the community coming together and singing with one voice,” Rincon said.