Tonight Eva Sapper will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the San Francisco Giants seventh-inning stretch at AT&T Park. Her voice will resonate among some 40,000 fans who will watch her on the huge scoreboard as she root, root, roots for the home team.
It will be an over-the-moon event for Eva, the 20-year-old Sonoman whose parents were once told she may never walk or talk. Now she is a star, the shining inspiration behind the new Everybody Is a Star Foundation. She will be singing with two other special needs stars, Loren Moale and Mikayla Barber of Napa, and superstar reggae/rapper Matisyahu.
Eva suffered a stroke at birth, followed by seizures that shut down all of her organs. She spent her first 14 days on life support, and because of damage to her brain was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. So began a life of special needs that is turning out to be quite a special life indeed.
From early on, Eva made amazing progress and was able to enroll in the special education program at Sonoma Valley schools. She was mainstreamed at Sonoma Valley High School when during her senior year in 2012, she started gearing up for the massive senior project required to graduate. She dabbled with the idea of a cookbook and ultimately decided she wanted to perform a professional-quality song.
Her mom, Karen Sapper, has spent countless classroom hours helping Eva, and when she told the administrators Eva’s project idea she was stunned to learn that special needs students were not part of the senior project tradition. Undeterred, Eva turned in her proposal binder anyway and continued on. She took voice lessons, rehearsed, and met all the senior project deadlines.
Performing has always offered Eva an escape from her everyday challenges, one of which is that she is extremely shy. As with many performers, she’s nervous just before, but loses her inhibitions once she steps on stage. When she was 7 years old, she played a fairy in Kate Kennedy’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and then went on to perform in twenty-five shows with Broadway Bound Kids. A lost boy in “Peter Pan,” Jane in “Mary Poppins” and “I had a lot of lines as the Matron in ‘Hairspray,’” Eva recalled.
Her father, Howard Sapper, has a long career in the music industry, and when his friend, Peter McEvilley, a big-time film producer, heard about Eva’s senior project he offered to make her a video. When asked about the expense McEvilley answered, “For Eva? Nothing!”
The day after prom, Eva flew to Los Angeles and spent several days filming in a sound studio, on Redondo Beach and in a park. The resulting music video of her singing the Taylor Swift hit “Love Story” is not just professional, it’s remarkable. Her voice is crystal, her smile’s engaging, her eyes lock you in. When the video ends it’s as if there is no choice but to play it again. Gone are any traces of the struggles Eva faces everyday. Even Eva, when she first saw it, could hardly believe it was really her. “It came from my heart,” she said.
Eva’s parents showed the video to Eva’s teachers and submitted it as her senior project, even though she had technically been excluded. They wanted everyone to see Eva’s ability. Her project was not only accepted, it was praised as being exceptional. And it was Eva’s stellar performance that led to a district-wide policy change that now allows special needs students the option of submitting a senior project.
That change was to be the beginning of the trajectory. McEvilley put the video on invitation-only You Tube, and it took off. Everyone loved her, and he had the idea that he wanted to bring Eva’s experience to other talented special needs young adults. He started with Loren, a good friend of Eva’s from Broadway Bound Kids, making a video of him singing Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” while Howard went about setting up the new nonprofit Everybody Is a Star, and getting its website built, which now features Eva and Loren and will soon include Mikayla. If all goes well, it will eventually highlight a constellation of special needs stars.
Eva’s parents are proud and so optimistic about what Everybody Is a Star accomplishes. “This gives them a calling card of confidence. It plants the idea that they can do something they never thought they could do. It is a doorway in their limitations that they can step through,” Eva’s mom, Karen. said. “Another part of their spirit is given an invitation to come forward.”
Everybody Is a Star’s mission is to promote their performers’ sense of self-esteem, confidence and success by providing them opportunities to learn from and work with professionals in the entertainment industry. Eva, Loren and Mikayla already sang at a Golden State Warriors basketball game, and later this month, Eva and Loren fly to Boston to perform at Greenfest. They’ve performed for nonprofits; later this month they sing at Merrill Gardens and in the fall they have a gig at the Hard Rock Café in San Francisco. Eva is also in Sonoma school system’s Transitions program, and works part-time at Sonoma Valley Hospital and at the Boys & Girls Club.
Tonight Eva will sing at Giants game, where her microphone will be behind the left field fence in front of the massive baseball mitt. “I’ve been practicing in the shower, in my room and in the car,” she said, and she knows she’s ready. “I’m a little nervous but I’ll deal with it.”
Of course she will. She’s a star.