The AJ Project Strives to Build Organ Donor Awareness Through the Arts

by Bridget Conrad | 3/21/2019 2:05 AM

Photo Credit: ajperrelli.com

Throughout the 26 years of AJ Perrelli’s life, he was cast in many stage and screen roles, but his last role as an organ donor was definitely his most impactful. When Perrelli, a professional dancer, singer, actor, and stage performer, suddenly died in 2013, a fundraising page was set up for burial costs. Perrelli’s mother, Christine, vowed to put any leftover money from the fundraiser into a fund in Perrelli’s name for the arts. Due to the overwhelming support for Perrelli, what started out as an idea for a scholarship turned into his mother now running a full-blown non-profit organization called The AJ Project, which is an arts-based organization that focuses on working with adults.  

As a New York-based non-profit, The AJ Project brings professional and emerging artists together to raise funds and awareness to important critical issues and causes. Specifically, this organization champions the importance of organ donation in memory of Perrelli.

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Performing arts became a huge part of Perrelli’s life at a very young age. By the time he was 10-years-old, he was performing in children’s musicals and plays. Soon after, he got into voice over work and started training in dance to become a “triple threat.” 

At first, dancing seemed foreign to him, but Perrelli quickly discovered that he had a natural talent for it and was lucky enough to have most of his dance training paid through scholarships. After recovering from a horrible car accident in high school, Perrelli joined an international tour with Disney Live and Feld Entertainment performing as an actor, dancer, and puppeteer. He then moved to New York, and after being cast in a few small dance roles, decided to continue his studies in acting with The William Esper Acting Studio. At the end of his life, he was consistently working as an actor in film, TV, and theatre.

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When Perrelli passed away, his mother learned that New York ranked last in the nation for organ donation. Now, New York is second to last ranked at 50 with Puerto Rico ranking 51. In 2013, Perrelli was one of only 223 organ donors, and to date, over 10,000 people are on the waiting list for life saving organs.

Photo Credit: Christine Perrelli

Since its formation, The AJ Project has hosted several networking events, assisted a ballet dancer in need, created two PSA film pieces for organ donation, hosted a Tony Awards viewing party, and hosted two annual friend raising/donor awareness events showcasing amazing talent. 

“Here we are five years later and because of AJ’s story and The AJ Project I can still talk about my son like a proud momma.  I get to brag of his accomplishments as an artist and his generosity as a donor. I always hope that his story will inspire creatives to work hard and give back to the community,” commented Christine Perrelli.

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Now, Perrelli's mother is asking the dance community to take part in Create from the Heart #4OrganDonorAwareness, which is The AJ Project’s 3rd annual Friend Raiser on April 6 in Flushing, NY. This particular event is special to The AJ Project because it is centered around a meaningful performance.

On the night before Perrelli's organ donation, his father recorded Perrelli's heartbeat as a remembrance of his son. Once Perrelli's mother shared the recording with friends, it got into the hands of jazz musician, Jarvis Green, who was inspired to write a piece of music from it. Additionally, choreographer Kerry Ann McManus was inspired to choreograph a dance piece to Green’s music. This dance will be the featured performance at the event on April 6. The AJ Project is also seeking emerging and professional dancers to be a part of the event’s dance showcase. The proceeds from this event will go to fund programs for The AJ Project throughout the year. For more information on this event, visit www.4theajproject.org

Aside from the Create from the Heart event in April, The AJ Project is also looking for ballroom dancers who were affected by organ donation to represent the organization in the 2020 Transplant Games held in The Meadowlands. This organization is working to create a sponsor team and raise funds so a dancer can train, participate, and stay several nights in New Jersey during the event. For more information on the 2020 Transplant Games, visit http://www.transplantgamesofamerica.org/ballroom-dancinghtml.