Smiling through it all

Post-grad spreads joy through singing in viral videos

Post-grad+Anelise+Merrihew+aims+to+radiate+positivity+through+her+Unified+Singing+Club.

Owen Jones

Post-grad Anelise Merrihew aims to radiate positivity through her Unified Singing Club.

Melissa Dai, News Editor

With a beautiful voice and contagious enthusiasm, post-grad CAP Program participant Anelise Merrihew has spread messages of positivity and inclusion through singing videos, performances and a club. 

“I love to sing because I love to make people happy,” Merrihew said. “It makes me smile, and I feel like I’m good at it. It’s a great way to bring people joy and to bring everyone together.”

Merrihew’s passion for singing began at a very young age. 

“Right out of the gate, Anelise was always singing; there was never a time she wasn’t making joyful noise,” her mother Lori Diamond said. 

Since then, Merihew’s musical talent has grown and developed with the help of Diamond, who also happens to be a professional musician. According to Diamond, music has always played a significant role in their mother-daughter relationship.

“[Anelise’s love for singing] makes me feel empowered to help her follow her passion because I have the skillset for that and can help her with her joyful path,” Diamond said. “I’ve got the know-how, and I can back her up humbly and let her have her moments.”

During quarantine, Merrihew and her family band—consisting of her, Diamond and her stepfather Fred Abatelli—began creating upbeat singing videos filled with smiles and three-part harmonies and posting them publicly on Facebook, hoping to spread some joy during these difficult times.

“We started making videos for fun to brighten everyone’s days a little more because a lot of people were struggling,” Merrihew said.  

Since then, these uplifting singing videos have received thousands of views, one of them even reaching more than 11 million views and 120 thousand likes.

Lori Diamond

“We were shocked at the amount of views,” Diamond said. “We were [making videos] so lightly and casually, then everyone started responding so positively. It was a wonderful surprise.”

According to Director of National Programs Katie Brydon from the Best Buddies Leadership Conference, the main reason for the popularity of these videos, aside from the exceptional music, is Merrihew’s visible enthusiasm.

“Her smile lights up a room, and the way that she’s able to share that energy both in person and through the screen is captivating,” Brydon said. “You can really see the smile, the energy and the enthusiasm because they radiate through the screen and capture everyone.”

Merrihew’s positivity and musical talent instantly stood out to Brydon, who then invited Merrihew to perform two songs at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference. This international event took place virtually on July 17 with over 4,000 attendees.

“I felt so honored to perform,” Merrihew said. 

As a dedicated member of Algonquin Best Buddies, Merrihew brings the same positivity from her singing to her interactions with friends and faculty.

“Anelise is probably, to put it simply, the happiest person you’re ever going to meet,” Best Buddies co-adviser Caitlin Hynes said. “She thinks every single day is an amazing day, and she’s excited for everything she’s going to do and everything she’s going to learn. She loves her family and friends and generally is incredibly positive, more so than anyone else I’ve ever met in my life.”

“She also spreads that energy and positivity infectiously with how she greets everyone: she has the biggest smile with the greatest voice,” Best Buddies co-adviser Kevin Hausmann said. 

Merrihew’s involvement in Best Buddies has taught her the importance of inclusion.

“Best Buddies has a special place in my heart,” Merrihew said. “It’s such a great program, and I always want to support it. It’s where I got the idea of inclusion.”

This principle of inclusion sparked an idea in Merrihew’s mind in her freshman year: the Unified Singing Club, a singing club where everyone is welcome at any level of musical talent. 

“I came up with this idea because you have to audition for a lot of the singing clubs that I’ve been to,” Merrihew said. “There were no music clubs at Algonquin that were fully inclusive. When a club makes you audition, it means that not everyone has a chance. In this club, I wanted to make people feel welcome.”

Merrihew then took the idea to Diamond, but they found that creating the club was a very extensive process.

“It was a process that took a lot of time, paperwork and teamwork, but Anelise showed a lot of perseverance, and we never lost sight of that dream,” Diamond said. 

Then, when Special Education Department Chair Felecia Rutigliano offered her help as the adviser, they were finally able to make Merrihew’s vision a reality after over a year.

“Anelise had tried a year before to find a faculty adviser to start the club, and she had struggled to find somebody,” Rutigliano said. “I appreciated the idea behind the club and wanted to help.”

As the founder and president of the Unified Singing Club, Merrihew usually takes the lead during meetings, and she is accompanied by Diamond, the director of the club, who plays instruments for the group. 

“Anelise is a role model for the rest of the students, but she also has a beautiful voice,” Rutigliano said.

The current club has eight members, most of whom are part of Best Buddies.

“It’s really a friendship club,” Diamond said. “Our only rule is that you have to be kind and respectful and celebrate everyone’s unique gifts. A lot of people from Best Buddies are in the club, so that camaraderie, respect, and inclusion philosophy were already deeply ingrained in these wonderful friends.”

Some of the members in the singing club are even nonverbal.

“I didn’t realize how inclusive it would all be when it started, but it is so inclusive that we have people in our group that don’t have a physical voice,” Rutigliano said. “They physically can’t sing, and that’s okay because they either sway to the music, dance and show their appreciation for music through movement, or they use percussion instruments like maracas and other small instruments to make sounds that go along with the music. Music is a universal language; anybody can become friends with somebody else and enjoy time together when there’s music.”

Despite being in quarantine, the group has continued to meet every week over Zoom. Contact Diamond ([email protected]) or Ms. Rutigliano ([email protected]) for more information about how to join the Unified Singing Club.

“I really just want to spread the message of inclusion through my music,” Merrihew said. “Together, we’re unstoppable.”