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Musician with no arms seeks to inspire at Shorewood ‘Night of Hope’

George Dennehy of Virginia said he doesn’t question why he was born without arms in a Romanian orphanage.

But apparently this wasn’t always the case. Dennehy’s curiosity never went further than wanting to reconnect with his biological parents to learn more, however.

“From what the doctors have told my parents is that it’s just random,” Dennehy said. “It can be [a genetic disorder], but there’s really no reason—not that I know of. I’ve wondered what it could be. Maybe it’s the result of some drug. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just random.”

This story shared Monday during the Purple Project’s fifth annual Night of Hope illustrates a life motto for Dennehy—just because someone’s different doesn’t mean they’re less.

The two-hour program featured, among other things, a keynote address and a musical performance by the guitar-playing Dennehy, a candlelight vigil and prayer.

Sherry Ancich, founder of the Purple Project, said she hopes Dennehy’s story inspires many.

“He beat the odds of being bullied and overcoming that,” she said. “I don’t know how he does it. He’s such an inspiration.”

Purple Project started hosting Night of Hope five years ago to carry out its mission of extending love and hope in the community, and it’s become an annual tradition to bring in different keynote speakers with inspirational messages to share.

This year, Dennehy headlined the event.

Family matters

Born in a Romanian orphanage, Dennehy grew up in Richmond, Virginia with his adoptive parents and siblings.

“I was adopted after two years of mistreatment, abandonment and lack of care,” he said. “I was very sick when my parents first adopted me. They adopted me at the right moment. Otherwise I would not have survived.”

Dennehy made mention of the struggles he experienced trying to navigate his teenage years. He also noted that one thing he could never get use to was feeling alone.

Dennehy, 25, said his adoptive parents had some contact with his biological family, which mainly consisted of sharing photos.

As he grew older, Dennehy decided to reconnect with his biological family himself.

“After high school, my music career began to circulate the web a little bit,” he said. “Huffington Post has posted my stuff. What’s Trending and Bleacher Report posted some of my stuff just randomly. … Through that, my biological family contacted me because they found out my name and found out where I was. So, they were able to contact me.”

Dennehy is still in contact with them.

“Between Facebook and Instagram, it’s really cool to be able to connect with anybody,” he said. “We can’t really talk that easily because they speak Romanian, and I don’t. Sometimes I’ll take the time to copy and paste stuff into Google Translate. … I’ve had the chance to reconnect with them, and I’m really, really happy because you never know how long you’re going to have.”

No prosthetics, no problem

Dennehy said that over his life, he’s found ways to carry out day-to-day tasks that many might consider routine but create challenges for him.

At age 7, his adoptive parents decided it would be a good idea for Dennehy to learn to play music, he said. All of his siblings were into music.

It seems ironic that Dennehy would learn to play cello, especially since unlike a guitar with frets or a piano with keys, the cello doesn’t have guideposts to help one navigate how to play different notes, he said.

“It’s interesting because learning to play a cello is kind of like growing up without arms because there’s not really a guide,” Dennehy said. “Like a guitar, there [are] frets. On a piano, there [are] keys. You can know what note it is by what fret it is or what key it is. But cello, you’re going based off your own ear, your own knowledge of it or your own conscience.”

Dennehy tours the country at events such as Purple Project’s Night of Hope, sharing his story and his love for music. He said he thinks his message was well-received.

“We all have so many struggles in our lives,” he said. “We all get to that point where sometimes it just feel like it’s too much. We don’t feel like we can get through. Those moments matter the most.”