12-Year-Old Singer to Host Benefit Concert for West Milford Special Olympics Team

Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

Deborah “Zuke” Smith and Grace Nevin. Photo credit: Jessica Earnshaw.

“I know I am very lucky in life having my health and I am grateful for that, so I need to give back,” said 12-year-old West Milford resident Grace Nevin. Nevin is a volunteer for the West Milford Special Olympics Team, as well as a singer, and she is hosting her first benefit concert for the West Milford Special Olympics Team.

“I have been singing since I could talk,” said Nevin. Nevin started training with her vocal coach, New Milford resident Deborah “Zuke” Smith, when she was 9 and started writing when she was 11.

“I love working with Grace. She had this effervescent, bubbly personality. The voice coming out of her as a young kid was amazing. She is like a chameleon, she can take a sound and just imitate it and do really well at it,” said Smith.

Nevin said that when she is singing, she feels free and she can let everything go. She said that all of her problems from the real world vanish when she enters the music world that she created.

Nevin has written and recorded her first song with the help of Smith, that she will be debuting at the benefit concert. The song is called “I Found An Angel” and Nevin said that her inspiration behind the song is her friend Ben Weiss, who is a Special Olympian. “He [Weiss] smiles all the time and is so happy even though he deals with his disabilities. I just thought about how much he means to me and I want him to understand how special he is to me and the best way I can tell him is through song,” said Nevin.

Nevin said that when she met Weiss she decided to volunteer for the West Milford Special Olympics Team. She said that she helps the athletes with drills and with training for competitions.

She said that the best part about volunteering for the team is, “After every practice you see how happy the kids are and then when they win their events, they are so proud of themselves and I am proud of them too!”

Nevin’s idea for her benefit concert for the West Milford Special Olympics Team came from a question that Smith asks all of her students. Smith said that she asks her students why they want to be stars and they always respond with how they want to be famous and make a lot of money. She said that when she asks them what they would do with the money, every kid she has asked has said that they would donate the money to different organizations. So she said that she tries to help them start their journey as singers and philanthropists.

When Smith asked Nevin the same question, Smith said that Nevin told her that what made her mad was that the Special Olympians in town had to use old basketballs and she wanted them to have the same type of equipment as the other children. Smith said that she then went to Nevin’s house and figured out how much money would need to be raised for new equipment for the children, and then planned the benefit concert from there.

Nevin said that Smith is very supportive and gives the best advice. She said that Smith always teaches her students to use their music to make the world a better place and that is what Nevin is trying to do by raising money for the Special Olympics.

Nevin said that what she is most excited for in her upcoming concert is debuting her song because she put so much hard work into it and now she will get to perform it for Weiss and his family.

Flyer for “Grace Happens.” Flyer courtesy of Chrissy Borsellino.

Smith said that what she really likes about Nevin she noticed when she went to see Nevin perform in her school play. She said that a lot of the special education kids were there and the Special Olympic kids were there and she noticed at the end of the show when people could go up on stage and talk to Nevin, Nevin would just hold their hands and hug the kids. “It was so genuine and so warm. To see that kind of giving in a young kid really impressed me,” said Smith.

Smith said that being a singer takes passion and honesty from a person. “If the honesty is there, people are going to flock around you and support you. That’s what Grace has. She is honest,” said Smith.

When asked what her goals are, Nevin said, “I hope to become well known in the music industry and keep using my music and my name to promote causes like Special Olympics. These kids need our support. They love it when people cheer them on and support them. I am just doing a small thing now but if I become famous people will really take notice!”

The benefit concert for the West Milford Special Olympics Team, “Grace Happens,” is being held Saturday, July 12 at the West Milford Police Athlete League at 5 p.m. There will be barbecue food, concessions, activities for kids, along with Nevin’s performances. Donations will be accepted as well.

The song “I Found An Angel” was produced by two producers that Smith knows that have worked with artists such as Lana Del Ray and Idina Menzel. Smith said that the song is radio ready and after the debut at the concert, the song will be available on distribution sites for purchase and streaming.