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THE AMAZING ROCCO FIORENTINO
By Cub Danielle Azzolina

RoccoIt was easy to come up with the title for this story because the boy I interviewed is truly AMAZING!  At 12 years old Rocco Fiorentino already has many accomplishments and has amazing talents!

Rocco and his parents invited me to a Holiday Party last year that was made possible by Rocco’s Foundation. The Little Rock Foundation  was started by his parents Tina and Rocco Fiorentino.                      

The party was for children who are blind and visually impaired and their families. The party held at The Palace at Paris Caterers in Blackwood, NJ. offered carnival games, face painting, and a balloon show like none I’ve ever seen before by John Cassidy who holds the world’s record in balloon twisting.  Also, the Walnut Street Theater Company put on a performance called the Boy Who Cried Bully which was about how kids can deal with bullies, and everyone else!

Only a 3 to 5 percent chance to survive

RoccoRocco was born very prematurely, at only 24 weeks, and only given a 3 to 5% chance of surviving. He beat the odds and little by little he got stronger and stronger. Rocco has been blind since birth due to a condition that can affect babies who are born very prematurely.

 He had many surgeries as a baby and doctors were not very hopeful that Rocco would have a normal life and they were right.  Rocco has a WONDERFULLY BETTER than normal life and he has amazing abilities and has already accomplished so much more than what is normal for a 12 year old kid!

When Rocco was born he was so small that he was in an incubator.  Rocco’s mom couldn’t hold him or touch him with her hands but she did touch him in another way, through music.  She had Jazz music piped into his incubator 24/7 which was to stimulate his senses, something she could not due by holding him.

Today Rocco and music still have a special bond.  He is so talented!!  He plays the piano, drums and Saxophone and he has a truly amazing voice! He loves Jazz and he composes too.  

After the party I was invited to go to Rocco’s house and see his recording studio and to hear him play and get to know him and his family and it was a really special day.
                     
GETTING TO KNOW ROCCO

RoccoHe is a really great guy! I even met his dog Louie Braille with the Curly tail, an adorable black havanease.

He has a grand piano that he plays in the music room and he also had a large keyboard piano which his dad, Rocco put on top of the grand piano.  Rocco knew where all the buttons were (and there were A LOT of buttons). He got it set just the way he wanted it and he was even playing both pianos at the same time!!

He sounded like someone who has played for many years past his age of only 12.  His powerful voice filled the house and it was great because Rocco has an amazing voice! Check out his web site musicbyrocco.com and hear for yourself!  You will amazed when you see what Rocco has done already and who he has played music with!  Ever hear of the Birdland Jazz Club in New York? It’s only the HEART of Jazz and it’s just one of the many places where people were lucky enough to hear Rocco perform.  

Then Rocco showed me his recording studio which is in his basement actually he gave me a tour of his house. Rocco let me play a song I knew on the piano and he played the drums and it was so much fun.  Next I had a chance to ask him the questions I had prepared for my interview and this is what he had to say.

My Interview with Rocco

Rocco and TonyI asked Rocco what he would like to have as a career when he’s grown up.

“I’d say I’d like to be like Billy Joel. A song writer, piano player and singer and also to compose songs.  That’s what I would like to do. I also want to continue working with The Little Rock Foundation.”

I was curious how Rocco felt his school experience was like any other kid and how it was different.

 “Really other then the way we read it’s really not so different at all.  I read by Braille and you read printed words so in that way it’s different but really everything else is pretty much the same.” he said.   

Rocco is one of the actors in a new movie called Standing Ovation. It’s a movie a lot like High School Musical but the stars are kids around my age (11 years old) which is great because kids can relate to it much more than to High School Musical.  I wanted to know more about the movie and I asked Rocco about it.

 “It’s a film about two rival bands.  It’s a music competition and the two groups try to win it. There are other side stories too but the main plot is about the competition. I play myself in the movie. My part is the recording engineer.  I record the music video of one of the bands in the movie. I love being part of this project." Rocco revealed.

Rocco and StevieHe has already played on stage with Stevie Wonder in Atlantic City. But, I wondered whom else he would love to sing with sometime or jam with and he said that would be "Billy Joel and Harry Conic Jr."

I hope I get to hear that someday!

I asked Rocco how he first began playing the piano.

"I would sit with his mom and she would play the piano with me on her lap and before we knew it I was playing too.  I  was only 2 years old. I started  taking lessons at age 5.

Rocco believes that his parents piping jazz music into his incubator when he was a baby is a key factor in why he loves music especially jazz today!

Who has been an inspiration to you in your life I asked Rocco and he answered without hesitation.
 “I’d say my Mom and Dad.  Really they have always taken the initive to support and inspire me in anything I’ve wanted to do, so really it’s my Mom and Dad.” Rocco replied.

He also had a twin brother, Michael, who passed away at birth and whom he says is always watching over him.

What would you like kids and grown ups to understand about kids who are not able to use their vision I asked him.

Rocco“I’d probably say that the thing I hear often when people learn that I’m blind is “Ahh”, and really I don’t feel sorry for myself at all.  Honestly there’s almost nothing different about being blind except for some sports I can’t play.

But really there’s not much difference, and really there’s nothing to feel sorry about. There are some blind people who are blind and deaf and that’s really hard.  People with challenges could just sit home but most get out and live a normal life,” he explained.

I mentioned Helen Keller and of course Rocco knew about her story and he said.

“She was one of those people who took that and totally reversed that and lead a normal and a really great life,” he said

The Little Rock Foundation is amazing, but how can kids get involved to help?

“I think kids should give back to their communities in anyway that they can.  We also have a web site  www.tlrf.org  and that is our foundation web site where you will find anything about us and how to contact us.  We are a non-profit organization.  We run many programs through out the year to benefit blind and visually impaired kids and their families and to raise money and spend a little bit also to allow the kids to have some fun.” Rocco told me.

A link to the site can also be found on Rocco’s web site www.musicbyrocco.com.

Is there anything you would like to say or add for the article I asked Rocco?

“My main motto is to believe in yourself.  Really almost all people should live by that.  Nothings going to happen if you don’t believe in yourself or in what you do," he concluded.

COMMUNICATION
 
RoccoUp stairs in the kitchen Rocco showed me how he gets e-mails and how he does his homework. His computer reads out loud his e-mails to him. As far as reading Braille, I think he’s a faster reader than me!  He has a device called a BRAILLE WRITER that receives information from the computer and then prints it out in Braille.

Rocco can also use this device to type in Braille and he typed my name for me on it which was really cool!  The Braille writer doesn’t have a fixed keyboard like on a computer it changes with small buttons shifting up and down to form the Braille letters which Rocco reads (very, very fast) and he writes fast too.  He also types e-mails and letters on that too.  

I had a fantastic day with Rocco and his parents.  Rocco is a true inspiration not just to people who are visually impaired but for all people, especially kids.  He does not think of his blindness as a big problem really.  It was just an obstacle to overcome for him.  He just had to learn how to compensate and move on.

Like he said to me, "Some people with difficulties may just say oh I can’t do this or that so I’ll just stay in the house, but I believe you can have a normal life, get a job, be productive and just live a happy life just like anyone else."

That’s just what Rocco is doing and beyond! He’s living a VERY happy and exciting life.

ABOUT THE LITTLE ROCK FOUNDATION

The Little Rock Foundation has made a commitment to reach out to the community and make a difference in the lives of blind and visually impaired children.  The foundation provides two Family Resource Centers, one at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and the other at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a day camp at Medford, NJ, scholarships and advice and support all year.  Run solely by volunteers, more information is available by visiting  www.tlrf.org or by calling toll free-877-220-2500.
 

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