Self-taught pianist and baby rocker show meaning of giving

Jakarl Frasier has been playing the piano at MUSC since 2014. Photo by Anne Thompson

By Helen Adams

Jakarl Frasier, a composer who taught himself how to play the piano by watching tutorials on YouTube, now plays so beautifully that within a ten-minute window, two strangers stop to videotape him in the Ashley River Tower at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“It’s very rewarding, just to bring peace,” he says.

Peace, to people here for appointments or operations or visits. The pianist from North Charleston isn’t doing it for the money – he’s a volunteer who came up with the idea while visiting a sick family member. “The hospital, to me, is a very stressful place, not only for the patients but the nurses, the doctors. To calm people’s minds and take their minds off whatever is bothering them is great.”

Over at MUSC Children’s Hospital, George Pope tries to calm people, too – some of the tiniest people on campus. He holds and rocks babies. “People sometimes say, ‘You’re a guy. What’s a guy doing holding babies?’ I say, ‘I’ll tell you what – it’s the only place where miracles happen. So that makes it worth it.’”

He and Frasier are among more than 1,300 volunteers who helped at MUSC over the past year.

So many people have offered to volunteer their time that the only openings right now are at the information desks at MUSC Health downtown and Mount Pleasant. That’s impressive in a state that lags behind most of the rest of the country in terms of volunteerism, coming in 42 out of 50 in a Corporation for National and Community Service report.

Pope encourages people to find somewhere to help others if they can. “I get far more out of it than I put into it.”

His volunteer work at MUSC began more than a decade ago after he retired from the foreign service. “I had a friend, we lived in Mount Pleasant, she kept saying, ‘You need to come down with me and hold those babies.’ She took me by the ear and brought me down to the hospital, and it turned out she was absolutely right. It was what I was meant to do.”

He talks to the babies he holds. “It’s a huge sense of accomplishment or happiness when you pick up those babies. They’re sick, and they’re scared to death. They know they’re not supposed to be there. I believe the babies know their name and the difference between talked to and talked about,” Pope says.

“I just start talking to them, and I can see them relaxing. Even the nurses will say, ‘Look, their heart rate has gone down.’ Usually with me in five or ten minutes, they’re sound asleep. Totally zonked out.”

He volunteers at least once a week, but sometimes gets a call asking him for an extra day. “They say, ‘Hey can you come in? There’s a little baby whose parents simply can’t be here, and the baby is really unhappy.’

“The new phenomenon — these poor little babies who are the opioid babies? Man, they’re totally unhappy. Just holding them and helping to try to calm them down and letting them know that you’re there. Nothing you can do but be with them.”

Both he and Frasier say religious faith is part of their belief in the value of volunteering. Frasier’s faith also guides what he plays on the piano. “I feel led to play certain things. Some of the songs I composed came out of pain. I take a minute and just feel the place out. If I feel like it’s an upbeat day, and everyone’s around smiling, I play something upbeat.”

He grew up in a family that emphasized the importance of helping others. “When I was a kid, my mom always gave to the homeless. I grew up watching her do that. She’d make quilts for homeless people, and we’d bring them downtown. We’d give food out. She’d open the van door when I was younger and yell, ‘Jesus loves you,” Frasier says with a laugh. “Growing up around that made me want to give back.”

He tells aspiring volunteers to keep this in mind. “You’ll be making more of an impact than you think you are.”

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