When Bob Benjamin invited friends and colleagues to his fortieth birthday party, he never anticipated it would blossom into millions of dollars raised in support of the Parkinson's community and the need for a cure.
Bob had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD) two years prior. As he shared his invitation, he also asked guests to make donations to speed PD research instead of purchasing gifts.
A renowned manager in the music industry who has worked with performers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob saw that sharing his diagnosis brought new understanding of PD to the rock world ― and inspired generosity. Two years later, along with friend and concert promoter Tony Pallagrosi, he reached out to industry colleagues again, this time for a celebratory, cause-driven concert featuring up-and-coming local acts in New Jersey's Asbury Park. And the Light of Day Foundation was born.
Nearly 20 years later, Light of Day, named after a Springsteen song, has raised more than $4.5 million to help accelerate new treatments for Parkinson's and other brain diseases, including through support of The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF). In addition to an annual 10-day Winterfest concert series in Asbury Park and the surrounding area, concerts also are held in Europe and Australia.
Springsteen himself has made numerous appearances throughout the years, and Michael J. Fox joined him onstage in 2003 to perform two songs. This year's Winterfest kicked off Friday, January 5 and runs through January 15, with more than 150 performances in New Jersey and New York, plus Philadelphia.
In addition to funding research, they also provide community services for patients, families and caregivers. Their latest is Boxing for Bob, a New Jersey-based boxing program with complimentary exercise classes for people with PD launched in 2017. While exercise can be an important part of a Parkinson's regimen, Light of Day has found that a connection with a social outlet and the opportunity to break out of the isolation often experienced with PD are what participants value most.
Co-founder Tony believes their success is due to their grassroots focus and uniting the music and PD communities around a cause: "We're out there, letting people know why this fight is important and why we do what we do. And we do it together."