Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 19, 2007

Concert to Celebrate Differences, Friendships

A chance meeting between a University of Guelph student and a boy with Down’s syndrome has developed into a harmonious friendship that lends voice to the idea of celebrating differences.

Ten years ago, one of Dan Rossi’s favourite places to spend time at was his community swimming pool in Markham. One day while there that Rossi, now a fifth-year international development student at U of G, met Greg O’Brien, who has Down’s syndrome and is five years his junior.

“I could tell he was a great kid, and I really liked him,” said Rossi. “His sister was a student at my school and asked me if I’d mind spending more time with Greg.”

The two started hanging out together, and one of O’Brien’s favourite things to do was attend Rossi’s youth group meetings, where he could socialize and play around with musical instruments.

“Greg loved to bang around on the drums,” Rossi said. “My friends and I would play and sing along with him and because he loves the Backstreet Boys, we’d listen to their music. At first I felt like I was helping him, but over time I realized it was a two-way exchange and we were friends.”

It wasn’t long before O’Brien expressed a desire to take their voices beyond the weekly youth group meetings and start performing in public. “I immediately said ‘yes,’ because this is Greg’s dream,” said Rossi, adding that the group has since performed a handful of times, including their stage debut at O’Brien’s school.

On Feb. 2, O’Brien and Rossi, along with Rossi’s brother, Andrew, Marcel Destine and Miles Krauter, a high school student from Markham, will perform at their biggest venue to date when “Greg and the Boys,” as they call themselves, take to the stage at War Memorial Hall for a benefit concert to support the Canadian Crime Victim Foundation and the Guelph-Wellington Association for Community Living. Doors open at 7:45 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.

The concert is organized by members of the Fine Arts Network and Five With DRIVE, an organization founded by Rossi in 2005 to raise money and awareness for charities that support social inclusion and harmony.

“Greg has always wanted to sing in a concert, and I promised him I’d do my best to make that happen,” Rossi said.
“It’s not that he couldn’t have done it on his own, but I am so happy to help him with this. I love that he’s so excited about it. This is his dream.”

The duo’s relationship is something that Rossi doesn’t take for granted, and he says it’s a friendship that’s one of the most important in his life. But he didn’t realize how important it was until he was in his last year of high school on his way to starting university at an East Coast school on a football scholarship. Those plans were cut short in an instant when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a game.

“I was really upset and frustrated by the whole situation. I had to have surgery, and out of the dozens of friends I had at my high school, none of them came to the hospital or to see me at home.” But O’Brien came to see him and brought along a recording of himself singing a Backstreet Boys song to cheer Rossi up.

“Before that moment, I never thought Greg could understand the meaning of friendship, but he proved me wrong,” said Rossi. “Of all my friends, he was the only one there. That moment changed my whole outlook. You can’t treat people with disabilities differently because you might not think they’re normal. There’s no such thing as normal anymore. We all have our differences, and we all bring something unique to the table.”

Tickets for the concert are $10 for students and $15 for the general public. They are available in advance at the offices of the Central Student Association and Student Volunteer Connections, or at the door the night of the event. More information about the concert is available online.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519- 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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