Board Member Prospectus

You Can Help Us Help Others

Check out our New Board Member Prospectus and contact John if you’re interested in being part of The Coffeehouse Project. Share this page with anyone you think might be a good fit. Thank you for your consideration!

What We Do

The Coffeehouse Project provides music classes, workshops, presentations and performance opportunities in central and northern New Jersey, with a focus on serving special needs and senior populations.

Why We Do It

We do it because we care. We do it because it is important work. We do it because nobody else is doing it. Our motto is “Life goes better with music.” Research shows that listening to and making music boosts brain function, and improves memory and motor skills.2 It makes us more empathetic and helps us feel better about ourselves. It inspires storytelling, encourages social interaction and connection. Group performance and recording projects reinforce goal setting, self-discipline, teamwork, and self-esteem.

Despite all of these benefits, individuals with disabilities and senior citizens do not have sustained access to quality musical experiences in New Jersey. CHP exists to provide that access. Across all of our work shines the mission of using music as a vehicle for caring. We are passionate in our mission to bring music experiences to folks who otherwise won’t have them.

How We Came to Be

The Coffeehouse Project began as an after school activity that John created when he was a middle school teacher. The idea was to provide kids the opportunity to play rock and roll music in a supportive and caring environment. The activity was especially attractive to students who had not found a way to fit into the school music curriculum of bands and choirs. John ran the program for five years and and believed in it enough to leave his teaching job to seek an MA in community music. Within that initial after school activity were all of the ingredients of CHP’s current mission: music, community, an emphasis on participation rather than ability, and strategic planning to provide access to participation.

How We Do It

The Coffeehouse Project provides unique participatory, listening, audio/video recording and performance activities. CHP typically delivers these activities on-site at day programs and senior centers.* During a typical session CHP facilitators engage participants by emphasizing active listening (as opposed to simply hearing) and tactile connections to music (with clapping and hand percussion). Dancing and singing opportunities are presented at appropriate levels for each individual. Appropriate accommodations are thoughtfully and sensitively made for participants who are non-verbal, have mobility issues, are visually or hearing impaired, or have other physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities. Every effort is made to include every individual who wishes to participate in our activities.

Performance and recording projects serve as dynamic links to participants’ larger geographic community while exposing a wider audience to what older adults and those with special needs are capable of.

Benefits of Music Participation

Benefits of Music Participation

Music making provides cognitive, psychological and social benefits. For people with special needs, music making is much more accessible than other activities that demand advanced cognitive, language and physical skills. For seniors, appropriately designed music activities are not hampered by declining cognitive skills and physical infirmity but are in fact tools for mitigating their effects.3 For both populations, experiencing music and interacting with others through music increases self-confidence and happiness, encourages overall wellness, and reduces social isolation.4 Both the special needs and senior populations are especially vulnerable to social isolation; many individuals in these groups have few friends and few opportunities to make connections in the outside world.5

Simply listening to music activates wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions6, emotions7, and creativity.8 Listening to music has also been shown to reduce acute pain symptoms for patients in a pediatric emergency room and for patients with long term debilitating conditions.9

Creating music, even something as simple as clapping or striking a hand drum, stimulates both sides of the brain and offers a multi-sensory experience that engages every neurological system including the sensory, auditory, visual, motor and prefrontal cortexes as well as the cerebellum and amygdala.10

Engaging with music both as a listener and as a participant offers opportunities for individuals to express emotions; regulate mood; increase self-awareness and engage in social interactions.11 It can improve motivation, reduce symptoms of depression, and reduce stress.12

Music has the power to remove physical and verbal barriers by offering a robust and accessible way to foster social relationships.13 Singing and dancing allow individuals to act in synchrony with each other which produces positive emotions that increase cooperation by strengthening social cohesiveness.14 Participants learn (or relearn) how to take turns, how to listen, how to interact with the world; and they become self-confident.

A Look at Several CHP Programs

A Look at Several CHP Programs

Second Story Sessions – ongoing

A weekly 90-minute activity for adults with special needs. Each session offers opportunities for creative and musical expression, as well as new and varied social interactions. Participants
sing and dance to live music played by experienced musicians. There is a focus on teamwork as a performance “set” is created and rehearsed over several months. Periodically, the participants and musicians become the Second Story Band and perform at events in the community. This latter activity allows participants to share their work in their community and to gain confidence and self-esteem.
(Video of the Second Story Band performing

Rave Up with CHP – ongoing

A Music Rave Up Session is 60 min. of high energy singing and dancing to appropriate music selected and deejayed by CHP facilitators; participant musical requests are also accommodated whenever possible. Microphones are available to encourage singing along and to offer those who are so inclined the opportunity to perform for the group. The focus of these sessions is on social interaction, improved musicality, fun and stress relief.

Music for Wellness for Seniors – ongoing

Activities take place at six Somerset County senior centers. Each center completes a uniquely themed program of workshops that conclude with a performance. The projects offer seniors the opportunity to have direct and intimate experiences with live music making; to embrace mental and physical challenges such as memorizing lyrics and dancing; to safely leave their comfort zone by singing for the group and for an audience; and to find empowerment and improved self-esteem through self-expression.

Therapeutic Recreation Summer Day Camp – 2019

The goal of the program was to provide pre-teen campers with special needs the opportunity to experience music as a gateway to fun, creative expression and personal wellness. The group met twice weekly for four weeks. On the final day of camp, the group staged a performance for parents and friends. Participatory music activities were tailored to the needs and abilities of the individuals in the group. Facilitators used a variety of instruments including guitar, bass, banjo, and ukulele along with music recordings while encouraging campers to sing, dance and to use a variety of hand percussion instruments.

Ukulele for Seniors – Spring 2018

This was a ten session program at the Montgomery Senior Center which culminated in a performance for over 100 members of the community. The ukulele is a wonderfully portable musical instrument and playing one is good for the soul. Participants were taught simple chords and strum patterns and were playing songs by the end of the first session. This program was so successful that it became a permanent activity at the Montgomery Senior Center.

Skybox Sessions at Montgomery High School – Spring 2018

Monthly one hour sessions with high school students with special needs. One of the goals of these sessions was to help socially isolated individuals feel more comfortable in a group setting. Students were encouraged to choose the music to be played and to sing and dance together. The final project was a student recording of the song “Ho, Hey” by The Lumineers.

*Due to restrictions related to COVID-19, these services are currently being provided remotely via digital platforms.

International Programs

International Programs

Pondjumping to Belfast, Northern Ireland – Spring 2019

This project was a collaboration with The Black Box, a community arts group in Belfast. We gathered a group of participants from Somerville Senior Housing and over a period of months had them tell us stories about their lives which we recorded. The Belfast group created music
and sent it to us so that we could add the seniors’ stories. The final product was exhibited in the Belfast Moon Base location and was made into a CD.

Moon Music – Ongoing

This is also a collaboration with The Black Box and takes place every Thursday via Zoom.
Each week participants explore a different theme through music with singing, improvisation, poetry and wellness exercises.

Future Programming

Future Programming

Rock and Roll/Hip Hop High School

A program modeled on the original Coffeehouse Project that John created for middle school students. This program would provides hands-on musical experiences to at-risk adolescents in the community.

Rock and Roll/Hip Hop Middle School

A program modeled on the original Coffeehouse Project that John created for middle school students. This program would provide hands-on musical experiences to at-risk preteens in the community.

Teen Beats

A program that would introduce at-risk adolescents to beat making and the fundamentals of music production.



From families of participants in Second Story Sessions

We have been very pleased with the sessions. Our son looks forward to attending and enjoys the time singing and socializing with his friends. John does a great job encouraging and teaching and I enjoy seeing how much fun the students have. — Robyn

I think it’s a great program and thank you both so much for doing this each week! — Colleen

Victor has Down syndrome and John has brought Vic’s dreams to life by bringing together a band that he is a part of (which he desired for years). Vic loves his music friends, as he calls them! — Joan

Andrew’s social growth has been as important as his musical growth. Participating in SSS has helped Andrew feel more confident and comfortable in a group situation; he is less self-centered and more group-centered during sessions and this is a significant change for him. — Beth

From CHP ukulele program participants

Becca and John have fantastic personalities and lots of enthusiasm that makes me want to know more about the ukulele and continue playing. — Anonymous (from summer 2018 class evaluation form)

I would highly recommend this class. Thank you!!! I liked that they had us playing songs the very first night. — Anonymous (from summer 2018 class evaluation form)

The Somerville library ukulele class was awesome. Fun, invigorating and inspiring. When I left the first class I knew it was an experience I wanted to share. I manage a senior center and was able to start a ukulele program with my clients ages 60-92. They truly love to play. Becca and John do an outstanding job teaching this awesome instrument! — Denise

The hour and half I spend playing music twice a month with the Somerville Ukulele Experience is so relaxing, enjoyable and it’s a wonderful way to relieve stress that I look forward to playing music with everyone. — Bernie

From participants in the Somerville Senior Citizens Housing music program

A lot of my happy memories are dancing and singing with my late husband. Thank you, John, for bringing back those memories. — Ann

It’s Wednesday and soon you realize you’ll be downstairs singing and having a great time . . . John is a truly caring person who takes the time to listen. — Bette

John and Becca have brought joy and fun back into my life; we even learned to play the kazoo! — Nikki

It gets me out of my apartment and brings such joy to this place – happiness through song. — Joe

From families touched by John’s One to One Music Enrichment

Since John has been working with Cory, I have seen so much improvement in his self-esteem. He never thought he could be successful at anything. John has recognized who Cory really is and allows Cory to be himself and display talents I never knew he had. John has a way of bringing the best out of people with disabilities. His work with Cory has been inspirational, educational, and a total blessing for our family. — Mary D.

Our 23-year-old disabled daughter can’t read or write or express her feelings. She has always loved music. John has brought out her musical abilities and has allowed her to express herself in ways that her disability prevents her from doing. When she sings with John she exhibits pure joy and confidence. John has an exceptional ability to adapt his musical program to each individual.
— Nona and Ira Seid

When Dylan stands a little taller or speaks with more confidence than the day before, when I get to see him sing and dance and lead and interact with his peers in a way comparable to his “neuro-typical” family and friends, I am often overwhelmed by the normalness of it all. Opportunities to be so, “normal,” and to be recognized as such, are rare in the developmentally different community. They build confidence and self-esteem. John’s music program gives my son and his cohorts encouragement to think outside of themselves, cooperate with one another, engage with the wider world and “sing out.” He has what it takes to bring this about, organically, for individuals who otherwise are regarded skeptically. — Judith A. Stein-Farrall

From the community

Thanks so much for such a great time you both made for the folks at Camplain Rd. ATC! I enjoyed being there and I can see how your music brings such happiness to all!
— Lisa Marie Arieno, Director of Foundation Development and Public Relations, The Arc Foundation of Somerset County

This is a wonderful group of dedicated individuals who give their valuable time and energy to bring music into the lives of others simply to improve their general mental and physical health and wellbeing. Music has a great way of healing and these selfless individuals give of themselves to bring happiness to others. — Kelly Kaplan, personal donor and President of Caldwell Consumer Health, a corporate sponsor

On behalf of myself and my staff it is a pleasure working with you and your assistants. It is always amazing how you transform our children into these wonderful singers and dancers who have been filled with confidence and increased self-esteem. We thank you for your passion and commitment to children. I look forward to maintaining our partnership in the future. — Dawn Rannie-White, Assistant Program Director, CC Diocese of Metuchen

You guys continue to amaze me! …absolutely love your Facebook feed. It brings joy to my heart. — Erica Restrepo, Bound Brook Cultural Arts Committee

Who We Are

Who We Are

Our Board

Nicole Lohrbeer (President) has been an instructor at Mesa Community College for the past 15 years.  A lifelong educator and coach, she founded Change inSight Consulting LLC to help people and organizations create dynamic change.

Sacha Forgoston (Secretary) is a mathematics lecturer at Rutgers University. As a teacher, she is dedicated to helping people learn to master new skills.

Lawrence Barber (Treasurer) is an LPN and administrative assistant who has spent years studying education. He values giving back through volunteering and serves on the board of String of Pearls Animal Shelter.

Weatherly Morgan (Board Member) helps non-profits for a living through website development and online marketing. She is a past-president and served for over ten years on the Board for the Front Royal/Warren County United Way.

Loretta Hodgson (Board Member) is a retired Montessori Preschool teacher who has taught hundreds of children during her career. She has also been a professional clown and ventriloquist. Loretta is now the volunteer coordinator of FACT (Friends Acting and Caring Together) which provides monthly meals to people in need in the Essex County area. She volunteers locally in her community and desires to make a positive difference.

Our Executive Team

John Ruán Fitzpatrick (Founder, CEO and Artistic Director) has more than twenty years of experience as an educator, a musician and a support for individuals with special needs. He earned an MA in Community Music at the Irish World Academy in Limerick, Ireland.

Rebecca (Becca) Kaian (COO and Music Leader) can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing;  most recently, a 14-year stint with her local community choir gave way to singing in a rock band, learning the guitar in earnest and writing songs. Becca is a former social research scientist and current marketing manager who earned her MBA from Rutgers University and has a passion for working with start-up companies/organizations.

Our Volunteers

Marilyn Tuzzo is a retired public school educator (Latin, Peer Leadership, ESL) with an M.Ed. in International and Overseas Teaching and Administration from TCNJ. Marilyn is committed to supporting causes that are empowering, healing and joyful. Inspired by her experiences with The Coffeehouse Project programs, she has sought new musical endeavors, including completion of the Level 1 Sound Healing course through Atma Buti School.

Steve Pavis has been John’s music guru since they were in sixth grade together at St. Clare’s school on Staten Island. Growing up at the younger end of eight siblings, Steve had early exposure to lots of 1960s music; by the time punk came along Steve was old enough to hit the clubs in downtown Manhattan and was at CBGB to see The Ramones and Blondie, as well as the first-ever Stateside performance of The Jam. Steve turned John on to the punk and new wave scene and through the years, has been a touchstone for all kinds of music worth investigating. Steve’s “New Yawk” charisma and hi-energy make him a very dynamic music facilitator for CHP, especially at The Arc day programs we visit.

Our Local Partners

  • Arc of Somerset County serves over 1,400 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
  • Arc Morris is the largest provider of services for people affected by intellectual and related developmental disabilities and their families in Morris County.
  • Arc of Essex County provides comprehensive services and supports to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families ensuring a lifetime of achievement with dignity and full partnership in the community.
  • Children’s Specialized Hospital is a provider of specialized healthcare services for infants, children and young adults in New Jersey.
  • Middle Earth is a nonprofit agency providing services to youth and adolescents in Somerset County, New Jersey.
  • Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission promotes public interest in local and county history, in the arts and in cultural values, goals and traditions of the community, State and Nation.
  • Somerset County Library System
  • Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability links seniors, their caregivers, and adults with disabilities to the programs and services needed to remain independent and active in the community. Services include nutrition and wellness programs, eldercare services, six county-operated senior centers and many special services for adults age 60 and above.
  • Somerset County Parks Therapeutic Recreation is dedicated to providing year-round recreation and leisure opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

Our International Partners

  • The Black Box Trust (UK) provides a cultural space within the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast, Northern Ireland to advance arts, culture and sciences and promote the public’s knowledge, understanding and appreciation of these purposes.
  • Community Music Wales (UK) is a community arts organization whose fundamental aim is to contribute to the empowerment of disadvantaged groups and individuals through enabling them to participate in creativity and learning, initially and primarily through music making.
  • More Music (UK) is a community music and education charity based in Morecambe, England that covers a breadth of music-making activity involving people of all ages and all backgrounds.
  • Giulia Massarin is an artist and illustrator in Lazio, Italy.
2 to 5 Year Financial Goals

Where CHP Is Heading Financially

Our Immediate Goals for CHP’s Future

Our Immediate Goals for CHP’s Future

  1. Recruitment of strong board of trustees.
  2. Improvement of fundraising capabilities.
  3. Rental of our own dedicated space for music sessions, recording, performances, and administration and to create a physical CHP footprint in the community.
  4. Expansion of our base of music facilitators and volunteers.

Are You Able to Help Us?

A new trustee will become a very active member of the CHP board team, which will be working together to lead CHP into the future.

A candidate should:

  1. Be passionate about music.
  2. Be aware of and particularly empathetic to the special needs and senior populations of New Jersey.
  3. Be passionate about providing individuals with disabilities and senior citizens sustained access to quality musical experiences.
  4. Be able to actively advocate for CHP. This means devoting a minimum of three hours per week to CHP and promoting CHP in a public setting several times a year.
  5. Be able to ask strangers for money to support the mission of CHP.
  6. Be able to make a personal contribution of $1,000 upon joining the board and/or commit to being personally responsible to bring in $1,000 in donations per annum in addition to additional fundraising carried out by the board on behalf of CHP.

If you’ve got what it takes, we’d love to hear from you!