Former NFL quarterback Steve Young and his wife, Barb, help celebrate the opening of Sophie’s Place, a dedicated music-therapy space, at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa on March 30, 2017. Tom Tingle/

Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Steve Young and his wife, Barbara, on Thursday attended the opening of a music-therapy center for hospitalized children in Mesa.

The pair, representing their Forever Young Foundation, partnered with Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, in opening Sophie’s Place.

The Mesa music-therapy room is the third Sophie’s Place built at a children’s hospital. A press release from the Mesa hospital said the room includes state-of-the-art space for music therapists to offer group and private music-therapy sessions. There is also a recording studio, listening area and practice areas.

Sophie’s Place is named after Sophie Barton, a girl who dedicated her short life to playing music for sick kids before she died from heart conditions at age 17. The project was started to honor her, and to achieve her goal of healing through music, the hospital said.

The ribbon-cutting started with a series of speeches, including from the Youngs. Both thanked the people and organizations that provided funding for the music center.

The Banner Health Foundation raised funds for the project through galas, including Stars of the Season and the Pulse of the City Soiree, as well as gifts from individual and corporate donors.

‘The healing power of music’


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“This is a fun day, but it’s really about the kids. All the work we’ve done is for them,” Steve Young said.

The couple, thankful for all of the support from staff and the attendees of the event, said they were proud of the facility.

“It’s amazing to see, the healing power of music is so wonderful. We’re just so happy to be able to see the help it’s given rehabilitating kids,” Barbara Young said.

The music therapy at Sophie’s Place serves to relieve stress, pain and anxiety in children going through treatment at the hospital. Children can play or listen to music.

Music therapists will be able to use the instruments and equipment in the facility to help kids express themselves through song creation and play songs that soothe children who are experiencing trauma. The space can be used to teach children how to play instruments for the first time, as well as provide an area for the more experienced musicians to practice during their stay.

Before the formal ribbon-cutting, Sophie’s parents, Kent and Anne-Marie Barton, spoke to the crowd, expressing their gratitude and saying how proud she would be of the work the foundation has done.

Kent Barton told stories about his late daughter’s love of writing songs and said one of his daughter’s life goals was to perform in front of a large crowd.

“When Sophie would get excited about things, her entire life, she would say, ‘My legs are tickling,’ and so I know that Sophie’s legs are tickling right now,” he said.

Following her parents’ speech, Sophie’s sister Tessa Barton played a song for the crowd that the two had written together, and was joined with her brother Luke in the performance. Both are now full-time musicians. Tessa said Sophie first got her interested in music.

The song, entitled “Walk With Me,” was the last of about 50 songs the sisters had written together, just a week before Sophie died.

“Sophie and I wrote the first two verses of that song, and we didn’t know what it was for, but we just loved it,” Tessa said.

‘It’s a peaceful moment’

Performing that song has always been special for Tessa, who, just two years older than Sophie, said she believes she could feel her sister with her on stage.

“I just knew that was for her, and every time I sing that song, it takes me back to that moment, so it’s very difficult. But it’s a peaceful moment, and I really feel like she’s with me when I sing it,” Tessa said.

After the performance, there was a formal ribbon-cutting, and sponsors, kids, parents and media members got a chance to walk around the room, play with equipment and listen to more music from Luke and Tessa Barton.

One of the children in attendance, 8-year-old Brittny Velasquez, who has used art and music therapy in her fight against cancer, was excited about the new facility.

She has been learning to play the ukulele, and is even in the process of writing a song.

“I’m still trying to get it together,” she said of her lyrics.

Brittny said her favorite musician is Justin Bieber, but that her style is something completely different.

Piper Laird, a music-therapy coordinator for Banner Health, said kids like Brittny will be able to use Sophie’s Place to make a real difference in their healing.

“This whole thing means that kids are going to have the opportunity to leave their rooms, leave things that are difficult, painful and stressful,” Laird said, adding, “They can go to Sophie’s Place and they’re going to be able to write songs, to express how they feel and have the opportunity to play and interact with music.”

‘Most kids really respond to music’

In her years working with kids, Laird says she has seen more children respond positively to music therapy than she could count, and it gives parents an opportunity to interact with sick kids in a productive manner.

“Most kids really respond to music. Music’s everywhere in our society, and being able to use that and shape that to be able to help a kid with a goal they’re working toward is just something that’s priceless,” she said.

Music therapy is a relatively new program in hospitals, and Cardon Children’s Medical Center shows it at the forefront of innovation in treating young patients, according to the hospital’s CEO, Justin Bradshaw.

“We know that when kids are relaxed and they’re comfortable, their bodies heal faster. So having a place like this where kids can come and forget about their procedures and forget about the medicine, it accelerates the healing process,” he said.

As for the future of Sophie’s Place, Bradshaw says the hospital staff hopes it will be in use for a long time.

“The goal is that the space is utilized on a regular basis, and that children and teens that are in there, see that as a place to retreat and to be able to forget about some of the things they’re dealing with,” he said.

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