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Shining Star CLE: Why it's more than just a high school singing competition

Since its inception, donations and support have created roughly $2 million in funds for memory care on the Menorah Park campus.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — For many, music is medicine. For those struggling with dementia and various levels of memory loss, music can be a key that helps unlock parts of the mind. 

"Residents with behaviors, it helps de-escalate them," Menorah Park Director of Life Enrichment Jessica Pope says. "It brings happiness and helps brings residents closer to each other and the staff."

It's one reason why the Menorah Park Foundation started the Shining Star CLE high school singing competition. This year 136, students sent in audition tapes for the chance at a $10,000 scholarship, representing 73 high schools and nine counties across Northeast Ohio.

Fifty-four percent of them had never auditioned for Shining Star CLE before, and 84 made it to the first callback for a second virtual audition. Now, 25 are waiting for the live audition to try to make it into the top 10. 

Calista Zajac is a Shining Star CLE pro. She was the youngest competitor when she first tried out as a freshman, and made the top ten three years in a row. Last year, she took home the $10,000 prize. 

Her first year, Calista came to Menorah Park to sing for residents, and saw first-hand how music brought life into them as they sung along while clapping and tapping their feet. That's why she returned this week to give them a full performance, and hopes this year's contestants do the same.  

"It's so important if you're a part of this competition to understand why you're doing it," Calista said. "It's not just a singing competition. There's a lot behind it."

Shining Star CLE has grown from raising just under $300,000 in the first year to almost $430,000 in the fifth. Since its inception, donations and support have created roughly $2 million in funds for memory care on the Menorah Park campus.

Money provides group and individual music therapy programs for residents, along with ongoing training programs incorporating the most up-to-date research and techniques as well as other mind-stimulating programs that support social engagement. It also buys technology. 

"We're able to purchase iPads, download many different programs and apps that we can use for sensory stimulation, music programs, cognitive functions and something as simple as being able to communicate with family," Pope told us. 

Donations helped fund a TEMI robot that can travel to a patients rooms by itself with an iPad so residents can FaceTime with family. This was critical during pandemic visitor restrictions. 

In addition to TEMI, the money supports operations at three assisted memory care locations — including two of the largest long-term care residences in Ohio — and community programs like the longest adult day program currently in existence.

As for the student singers, they receive exceptional advice from a panel of judges in the entertainment industry. Cash prizes are awarded to the top four winners. 

This year's Shining Star CLE is once again live at Playhouse Square on Sunday, Sept. 11. Click HERE for more information and follow along with the auditions HERE.

Calista is getting ready for both her senior year at Magnificat and her college search for a musical theater program. She still finds inspiration from the Menorah Park audience as a reason and reminder of why she must keep singing, and they certainly appreciate it. 

"It's a well-planned program," Alan Abrams says, "and sometimes they play 'Name that tune,' if you remember that old show.". 

"I've come to a lot of them," Ina Burday adds, "and I try to be active enough to do so."

Music: Tuning the mind to fulfill the soul.


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