“The World Needs You.” With Penny Bauder & Constanza Roeder

The world needs you. You have a unique gift and a unique perspective. Just like a choir needs each individual voice to create a beautiful sound, the world needs your voice. There is a unique place were your gifts and experience intersect with the world’s need. Don’t underestimate the power you have to change even […]

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The world needs you. You have a unique gift and a unique perspective. Just like a choir needs each individual voice to create a beautiful sound, the world needs your voice. There is a unique place were your gifts and experience intersect with the world’s need. Don’t underestimate the power you have to change even one person’s world for the positive. You do not have to start an organization to make a difference. You don’t have to wait to “grow up” to make those around you feel loved. Start where you are with your friends and family and community. You can make a difference one person at a time, one encounter at a time. If everything you do is done in love, then you will absolutely change the world.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Constanza Roeder.

Constanza Roeder is a singer, speaker, and the Founder and CEO of Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Adults with Cancer. Because of her experience with the healing power of the arts as an adolescent Leukemia survivor, she started singing for patients in hospitals after she graduated from college. She grew up in Santa Cruz, California and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2008 where she lives with her Navy veteran husband and dog Gabby. She speaks around the country inspiring people to reframe and reclaim the healing power of their own creativity.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Sure! I grew up in Santa Cruz, CA with my parents and 4 siblings. I loved swimming in the ocean, singing, and learning. Yes, I was (am) a big nerd. My mom homeschooled me through 8th grade. I am forever grateful that she instilled a love of learning and the arts and made sure I had time to explore my creativity. My dad passed down his entrepreneurial nature. He taught me to use my creativity to create the world I wanted to see.

We grew up in the church and my parents instilled a passion for serving and loving others. We moved to Romania when I was 5. My parents aided a university in Oradea in their efforts to convert the country to a market economy after the Berlin Wall fell. They also volunteered in orphanages and supported relief efforts. I learned at a young age about the importance of service.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

People facing life-altering health challenges (especially those requiring long hospital stays) commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. These challenges stunt the immune system, negatively impact overall outcomes, increase the length of hospital stays, and increase the cost of healthcare. Even though research shows that our emotional and spiritual wellbeing directly effects our physical wellbeing, most healthcare systems still view care through a disease model. The emotional and spiritual needs of patients often go neglected.

We are a part of a movement toward more patient centric healthcare that includes the arts. Ethnologist Ellen Dissanayake defines the arts and related activities as “processes that help humans return to psychological and social equilibrium.” Can you think of a more emotionally volatile place than a hospital? We experience some of life’s greatest joys and sorrows in hospitals. You cannot have a humane healing environment without the presence of the arts.

The vision of my organization, Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Patients and Caregivers is the universal accessibility of arts engagement so that everyone can feel seen, heard, and loved while facing life-altering health challenges. The arts are revelatory by their very nature. They help us to see others and be seen by others in a profound way. It just so happens that one of the most powerful protectants against the negative effects of trauma is to feel seen, heard, and loved. The presence of artists in hospitals significantly transforms the healthcare experience.

The presence of artists in hospitals also contributes to a more equitable society. Research shows that loneliness is deadlier than smoking and obesity. Many patients do not have a loved one that can afford to leave work to stay with them in the hospital. Medical staff do not have time to fill the gap and sit at the beside of a lonely patient. The presence of artists helps fill this gap in companionship and, at the same time, equips patients with valuable skills to promote holistic well-being.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

At 13, I personally experienced the healing power of a creative community after I was diagnosed with Leukemia. Soon after I started chemotherapy, I connected with a local nonprofit in Santa Cruz called Jacob’s Heart. They offered creative workshops for teens with cancer. I grew up singing but the workshops taught me new ways to use the arts to express the powerful grief, fear, and anger I felt about my cancer diagnosis. The workshops became a brave space for all of us to share our stories through our creativity. When I shared what I created with that group I felt seen, and heard, and loved in a way I never experienced before.

After 130 weeks of chemo I went on to receive my degree in music at Bethany University and moved to San Antonio, TX with my husband Jeff. When I started volunteering to sing for adult cancer patients at a hospital in San Antonio, I knew I found my calling.

It is difficult to describe the impact of someone stepping into your hospital room during the most horrible moments of your life to sing to you. A tiny beam of beauty in such a dark moment can transform a patient’s whole day, week, or even life. Arne Garborg says, “To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.” Patients taught me many heart songs to sing to them during their long, dark days of forced forgetfulness.

The more I sang, the louder this question rose in my heart: If the arts make us feel better, why is arts engagement not part of the standard of care in places where we try to make people feel better? I felt like I needed to do something to fix this problem.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

One word: Gracie.

I met Gracie the day after she was diagnosed with Leukemia. I knocked on her door and introduced myself to the scared-looking twenty-something sitting alone on her bed. I asked if she wanted me to sing for her.

“No,” she said. “I’m not an artsy person and I don’t really listen to music. But… actually…if you know a Christian song, can you sing one?”

The song that came to mind was His Eye is on the Sparrow, a song my aunt used to sing to me when I didn’t feel well. By the end of the song, the tension in her body relaxed. She looked up and simply said, “Thank you.”

She lived in the hospital for several months while her doctors administered chemotherapy treathement. She was alone most of the time because her family lived hours away and had to work to pay for her treatment. Her favorite day of the week was Wednesday because I came and sing for her and we gathered together with a small group of other young adult patients in the hospital to play music and share stories.

Once her cancer went into remission, her doctors released her to go home. But the cancer came back. As I knocked on the door on her first day back in the hospital, I expedted devastation and anger. But instead, I found her sitting on her bed smiling. She said, “I’m so glad you’re here! I want to show you something.” She called me over to her bed, rolled up her sleeve, and there on her arm was a brand new tattoo of a sparrow. She said, “I will never forget that first song you sang for me. And I know now that no matter what happens, He is watching over me.”

Chemotherapy could not overcome her cancer this time. But, before she went home on hospice, she called me into her room, grabbed my face and said, “We need more art and music. We need more reasons to get out of our room and our isolation. We need to remember the reasons why we are alive as much as the things that keep us alive. They put us through hell in here and it’s easy to forget what we’re fighting for. We need help to remember.” She charged me to do more for all the patients that would follow her.

How could I argue? You can’t get a more direct call to action than that.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I actually had NO idea what to do to start a nonprofit. But, I’m a millennial so, I Googled, “How do you start a nonprofit?” I found many resources that walked me through the process. My search lead me to a resource called SCORE, a national nonprofit that helps mentor people who want to start a business or nonprofit. My SCORE mentor and other nonprofit founders helped me navigate the legal process to register Hearts Need Art as a nonprofit.

I needed money to file the paperwork so I started a campaign on social media. I posted stories and interviews of patients sharing about the impact of the arts. In 30 days I had enough money to start.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

This may not be incredibly interesting but, it is something meaningful that surprised me. Working with patients is incredibly deep and meaningful work for an artist/musician. It’s rare to find work that allows you to use your gifts to make an impact that also allows you to directly see that impact. I selfishly enjoyed the work on my own for many years. But I knew that I had to move toward mentoring other artists in order to achieve the goal of universal arts accessibility. Once I started my organization and my team of artists began to grow, I dreaded the day would start stepping back from direct work with patients in order to empower more artists to do the work. But, when the transition occurred, far from dread and loss, I found exhilaration and fulfilment. My main ministry became my artists instead of my patients. My artists shared how much the work meant to them. I heard stories from our patients about how much they loved and connected with our team of artists. I feel like a proud parent and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching others thrive in this work.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

We had this great idea to spoof a clip from a TV show and premiere the video at one of our fundraising events. We found a videographer, wrote the script, cast the video with our artists, and set a date to film on location. We had never done a shoot like this and neither had our videographer. So, none of us scouted the location during the time of day we would shoot. We shot in the middle of the day when the hot, Texas sun was directly overhead. The lighting was terrible and we had to wait for clouds to roll across the sun to film. It took us hours to just get a minute of useable footage. Then, after all of that, we realized our spoof was a little too close to the original and potentially infringed on copyright. (Not a good look for an arts organization.) We had to scrap the whole project and tell the team that all of their hard work was for naught.

It was a very embarrassing mistake. But instead of staying in a shame spiral, we laughed about it. Our videographer even combined the outtakes into a hilarious blooper reel we debuted at our Team Christmas Party.

I learned that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. You can’t get mad at yourself for not knowing something. But if you can laugh at your mistakes, you can learn from them and move forward.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have more mentors than I can talk about in this short interview. Mark, another nonprofit founder, helped to push me past my fear to start the organization. Noelle, a friend and nonprofit consultant, helped me establish order in the early days of my organization. My parents and my husband continue to be my biggest cheerleaders. But I have to mention my Aunt Nancy Duarte. She’s amazing. She started her own business which is now the top design and communication firm in the Silicon Valley. She ranks #67 on the list of top 250 Women in Leadership and #1 of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. She continues to provide invaluable mentorship. The communication and storytelling skills she taught me supercharged my ability to galvanize people to the cause. More importantly, whenever I doubt myself or my ability, I think about my Aunt Nancy. She was a college dropout. She was “not qualified” to start her business but, she did it anyway. I think to myself, “If my aunt Nancy did it, why can’t I?” I draw so much inspiration and wisdom from her.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I met Jovette only a few days after she was diagnosed with cancer. Her whole countance lit up when I told her about our arts program. “Oh! Activities! This is going to be fun!” She jumped right into art class, ukulele lessons, and our music and movement sessions. She thrived.

During her second round of treatment, she returned to the hospital on a Friday expecting to stay for several weeks again. She reached out to our team to say how excited she was for ukulele lessons on Thursday. But then her doctor told her she only had to stay until Tuesday. Her reply? “But ukulele lessons are on Thursday. Can’t I stay a couple of extra days?” The doctor was floored. He never had a patient request to stay in the hospital LONGER. From then on, Jovette made sure her care team scheduled her treatment around our activities.

Once Jovette completed treatment, she continued to advocate and speak on behalf of our organization. She even plans to join our board of directors later this year.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Create policies that require insurance companies to cover prescribed arts in health engagement.
    Research indicates that arts engagement is an essential ingredient for health and wellness similar to eating right and exercise. In the United Kingdom, healthcare providers already prescribe arts and cultural engagement to address a number of health and wellness concerns. Policy makers are in the process of updating the UKs National Healthcare System to cover prescribed arts engagement. Many healthcare providers in the United States also prescribe arts engagement. But insurance companies do not have a mechanism to reimburse arts engagement. Without a change in policies at the national level, patients will continue to have limited access to arts in health services and our healthcare will continue to lag behind other developed nations.
  2. Support arts in health programs. Until insurance policies change, arts in health programs continue to rely on philanthropic support. If our work resonates with you, find a local arts in health program to support. Or you can support Hearts Need Art as we work with people all over the country. You can even adopt one of our artists at If you happen to work with a grant-making foundation, educate your board about arts in health. Most funders have no awareness that arts in health is a real field that does powerful work. Encourage foundations to create funding categories and initiatives that support arts in health programs.
  3. Reframe and reclaim the healing power of your own creativity. The healing systems in your body cannot function optimally unless you invest in meaningful experiences that lift your heart and spirit. We all experience emotional and spiritual pain throughout our lives. The go-to coping mechanism for Americans is to numb: scroll social media, watch TV, drink, overeat. These activities temporarily boost dopamine, a feel-good chemical in your brain. But when the quick high subsides, the emotional pain remains. Without tools to allow painful emotions to move through and out of your body, you become a slave to whatever gives you a temporary high. The arts contain some of the most powerful tools we have to express our deepest joys and sorrows. But most adults we work with say, “I can’t do art. I’m not an artist.” When I ask why they say that, they always share a story of wounding around their creativity. If this is you, let me apologize on behalf of whoever made you feel less than. Let go of the lie that divorced you from an essential part of yourself. You do not have to become a professional creative in order to experience the joy of using your own voice, body, and mark-making to express your true, authentic self. If you don’t know what to do or where to start, explore until you find an art form that resonates with you. Just because you don’t like to paint does not mean you won’t love a twerk class (one of my personal favorites.) Did you love to sing as a kid but then, your choir teacher told you to be quiet and just mouth the words? Go find a compassionate (and competent) voice teach to teach you how to use your voice. And no, you are not tone deaf! If you have any amount of inflection in your speaking voice, you can learn how to sing. You are a creative being made in the image of a Creator. Reclaim your heart, your art, and your birthright.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. History doesn’t belong to the prepared. It belongs to the brave. If you wait to act until you feel completely competent then, you will never act. You can never know everything you need to know. I had a pivotal moment one day as I wrestled with the fear of starting an organization. I realized that every human-made thing in the world was created by another flawed human being who simply possessed enough courage to act on their vision. So, why couldn’t I?
  2. Perfection is the enemy of progress. I was obsessed with getting an A+ on every assignment in school. If I didn’t get 100% or more, I obsessed over what I got wrong and worked even harder the next time. To start my organization, I had to let go of my obsession with perfection. I could either give myself permission to make messes in order to create something good, or I could sabotage my purpose in a futile effort to create something perfect. Embrace the mess and fall forward in the direction you want to go.
  3. This is going to be harder than you can imagine but, more meaningful than you dared hope. Most days I engage in the hardest work I’ve ever done and also feel more alive than I’ve ever felt. Embrace the paradox!
  4. Invest in yourself. The growth of your organization is only limited by your growth as a person. Thankfully someone taught me this principle early on. I keep reading and learning and listening. The more I learn and grow beyond personal limits, the more limits I remove from my organization.
  5. Accept help! When I stopped saying, “How can I do this,” and instead said, “Who can do this,” our progress as an organization skyrocketed. You can’t know and do everything yourself. That thing you HATE to do could be something that someone else LOVES to do. Don’t deprive others the joy of operating in their gifting because you are too scared or too proud to ask for help.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The world needs you. You have a unique gift and a unique perspective. Just like a choir needs each individual voice to create a beautiful sound, the world needs your voice. There is a unique place were your gifts and experience intersect with the world’s need. Don’t underestimate the power you have to change even one person’s world for the positive. You do not have to start an organization to make a difference. You don’t have to wait to “grow up” to make those around you feel loved. Start where you are with your friends and family and community. You can make a difference one person at a time, one encounter at a time. If everything you do is done in love, then you will absolutely change the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Brene Brown. She is a role model of bravery, strong female leadership, and embodying the change you want to see in the world. I would love to sit and talk with her about how we can use the arts to create a more empathetic, brave, and loving world. Plus, she’s a fellow Texan. So, there’s that.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow my Facebook page @ConstanzaAileenRoeder, Instagram @Constanza Roeder, and through my website

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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