Townsend man sings a song of inclusion

TYNGSBORO — Justin Gigliotti stepped on stage in front of 100 elementary school students with a message: it’s okay to be different.

The Townsend resident wrote a song about living with 22q, a chromosomal syndrome that has affected his heart and learning ability.

He and his guitar-playing cousin, Joey Pierog, performed it at the beginning of the month at a Tyngsboro Elementary School assembly for third, fourth, and fifth graders. They sang about how it’s okay to have a disability and encouraged students to tell their own stories and support others.

“I just like inspiring other people to do good in life,” Gigliotti said.

Pierog, Gigliotti, and his best friend, James Doherty — who also has 22q — wrote the song about a month ago while on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Within a day, the group came up with the lyrics and chords for the song.

They made a video performing the tune that went on Facebook, where it received more than 5,000 views and about 80 shares.

Principal Kerry Cavanaugh, who knows the Gigliotti family, saw the video online and thought the song fit in well with what students were learning.

Students have participated in the “Just Say Hi” campaign through the Cerebral Palsy Foundation that teaches them to talk with people with disabilities and be kind to them.

It demonstrates inclusion, which is one of the school’s core values, Cavanaugh told students.

22q, also called DiGeorge syndrome, is the result of a missing 22nd chromosome. The syndrome can affect the heart, immune system, and development.

About 1 in 4,000 people are affected by the syndrome, according to the National Institute of Health, but 22q may be more common because it may be underdiagnosed.

The singing duo was the opening act of the assembly. Upper elementary students shared accomplishments from service learning projects completed through their classes. They included donation collection for local groups and trash clean up around the school campus.

To continue to share the song and experience with 22q, Gigliotti created a Twitter account to spread awareness. He also makes videos for YouTube talking about his experience.

Gigliotti is a fan of Ellen DeGeneres and would like to play the song on her talk show. He’s been sending tweets and emails to her, hoping he will get the opportunity.

“The great thing about Justin is that there’s never a sense that something can’t happen,” Pierog said about his cousin. “There’s always an opportunity.”

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz.