“This is my friend Owen, everybody. He’s a member of our family here. We love him so much and he deserves and needs all of our love. And I’m going to sing this song special for you tonight, Owen, okay?”
These are the words that came out of renowned pop star Lady Gaga’s mouth Sunday during a show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
The person she was talking to?
Twelve-year-old Owen Zelinski, of Clearfield. The boy calmly sat next to her on the piano bench, in front of thousands of people, accepting a kiss on the cheek and intently listening while she sang one of her hits, “Edge of Glory,” to him.
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Affected by severe autism, as well as a rare brain disorder and rare form of epilepsy, Owen’s mother, Jennifer Brendel Collins, has been on a mission for about one year to fulfill her son’s dream to meet Lady Gaga.
Owen first heard “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga when he was about 4 years old and he connected immediately with her and her music.
“I think initially the biggest reason was her voice. It would calm him,” Collins explained. “She is the last thing he listens to before bed and the very first thing he does in the morning.”
When she heard about Gaga’s latest tour, she knew she had to take her son, but when looking at the prices for a meet and greet, the dream quickly started to fade.
Then, the mother had an idea that was just wild enough to work, but not in the way she had anticipated.
“I had this crazy idea to share Owen’s story on social media and my friend, Jessica Mondi, read Owen’s story and created the video in the hopes that it would reach Lady Gaga,” Collins said.
After months and thousands of shares and likes, the campaign wasn’t getting the traction Collins had originally intended – at least not with Lady Gaga’s management.
But it did reach the hearts of many in the surrounding community.
That’s when Jared Luce created a fund and the Elk County youth group Team Spartan, spearheaded by Todd Parisi, put a call out for people to give enough donations for Owen, his mother, and stepfather Ryan, to meet Gaga.
“During the meet and greet, it was a very brief moment that we got to see Lady Gaga but you could see the connection that they had when she saw Owen for the first time. She was unbelievably sweet to him and genuinely cared for him. She told him that she was going to sing a song for him,” Collins said.
“We were just expecting a “shout out” to him. So my husband and I were video taping the beginning of every song so that we could video tape the dedication – never expecting she would want him on stage with her.”
Lady Gaga’s team had been texting the family during the show trying to locate them but they were having too much fun enjoying the show. That’s when they physically located them in the crowd and asked if they could take Owen on-stage.
“Initially I was nervous that he would be uncomfortable, so we asked Owen if he wanted to sit next to Lady Gaga while she sang and he said “yes.” I sat at the edge of the stage just in case he was uncomfortable. It was one of the sweetest, most emotional moments I have ever experienced,” Collins said.
What did Owen think?
He woke up Monday morning asking to see her again. Collins said with a laugh that it has been a struggle explaining to him that his experience was one that comes once in a lifetime.
Collins said she is grateful to Mondi for making the video that eventually got to Gaga, as well as to Parisi, Luce and Team Spartan for all that they did.
Now, the family is looking for ways to pay it forward.
Collins said, “If we can give one family or person hope to dream big and that miracles can happen if you pursue them, we will be better people for that.”