The Lighthouse helped Yerko Difonis expand his knowledge of music and cope with his vision loss.

Yerko Difonis is one of the most talented young musicians at Lighthouse International. Only 17-years-old, Yerko plays six instruments and writes his own classical music. He is also legally blind and hard-of-hearing. “Yerko is a musical prodigy in a certain sense,” said Dalia Sakas, Coordinator of the Comprehensive Music Program for Young People at Lighthouse International. “He understands the workings of music in its most fundamental state.”

Yerko’s passion for music emanated from his family. His father is a guitar and bass player, while his mother is a singer and his cousin plays the keyboard. “My dad taught me some guitar,” said Yerko, who also plays the keyboard, piano, violin, drums and clarinet. “I started when I was five. From there, I learned by myself.”

Yerko and teacher John Sanfillippo

Born in Chile, Yerko and his family moved to the United States in 2000. It was a big transition for him, as he felt alone and insecure. “I found it really difficult to make friends,” he said. “I felt a bit isolated.”

Thankfully, the Lighthouse was there to help. In 2004, Yerko enrolled in the Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School to expand his knowledge of music. Yerko made an immediate impact. With the help of the music school’s staff, he learned how to read Braille and write music through notation programs. “Everybody is really open [at the Lighthouse],” he said. “[It’s] a very good place for anyone who wants to learn.”

Through his interactions and friendships at the Lighthouse, Yerko’s social skills improved. “He has demonstrated a maturity beyond his years,” said Dalia Sakas, “not only in his curiosity about music, but also in his patience and willingness to work with other students and help them along.” Now, Yerko no longer finds it difficult to make friends. “[My] social life has improved a lot,” he said.

Yerko, who won the 2010 VSA International Young Soloist Award for New York State, is currently enrolled in the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City. His goal is to become a professional pianist and apply for conservatory.

In preparation, Yerko has dedicated himself to music. He is currently working on the highest level of piano literature, exploring the intricacies of Robert Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, and even learning the unique demands of Beethoven’s sonatas. It’s all in a day’s work for the 17-year-old prodigy.

"I guess," said Yerko about his talent, "it's some sort of gift."

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