From dream to reality: bringing the arts to all communities

YouthChorus_FallConcert_0039By Anne Smith
One year ago, I was home during a snowstorm when an email arrived from Malissa Kenney.  Malissa is social worker and advocate, well known on the South Shore for her work with the ARC, serving individuals with disabilities. As an after-school volunteer at the Algonquin Heights affordable housing community in Plymouth, Malissa was well acquainted with the challenges facing that neighborhood. She wrote me in the hopes that together we could provide arts programming to the families living there.

As Director of Community Engagement at SSC, I work with community groups and social service organizations to provide access to the arts off-site, away from our campuses in Hingham and Duxbury.  SSC’s mission is to make the arts available to everyone, regardless of age, ability, location, or financial status.  A partnership with Algonquin Heights fit seamlessly in to both our vision and our experience. This is a community right in the center of Plymouth, but isolated from many of the cultural opportunities the town has to offer.  Financial challenges and lack of transportation mean that most children can’t participate in after-school activities. Malissa wrote, “We want to bolster the community and give the kids an opportunity to tap into their talents, have fun, and build self-confidence.  All those great things happen when you’re involved in arts.”

In the weeks following, we met with Malissa, fellow volunteer Kathy Dunn, and Ami Knight, Director of Resident Services to brainstorm opportunities to provide the community with arts programming. The partnership began in earnest last June with a series of community-wide drum circles drawing over 150 residents, from grandparents to teens to moms and babies, into active, joyful music-making.

Since then, the partnership has flourished.  Contributions from private donors as well as a generous grant from South Shore Community Partners in Prevention Community Health Network have allowed SSC to provide programming free-of-charge.  This fall, VERC Rentals and VERC Enterprises teamed up to donate access to a van to bring young singers from Plymouth to our Duxbury campus every Monday for the SSC Youth Chorus. With some of the funds raised by our annual Chase Away the Winter Blues gala, SSC provided full scholarships for eight singers from Algonquin Heights.

Led by Peter Mundt, beloved music educator from the Scituate school district, SSC Youth Chorus meets once a week from September through May.  Peter believes his role is to promote a feeling of community and family among his singers. “Whenever there’s an act of kindness I try to highlight it. These kids care about each other.  They take care of each other.  This opens everyone up to taking risks. I really want them to feel comfortable and courageous. When kids are excited about music, I feel like it’s opening up their personality and who they are inside.  Singing allows them to express their true selves.”

The power of this partnership is felt deeply by Algonquin Heights’ administrative staff. Ami Knight came to support the young singers at their first chorus concert in December.  The next day, she wrote, “Last night was beautiful.  I cried during the concert and sat in my car after and cried. I don’t know if you all understand how much it means to these kids to have people follow through, to encourage and support them and to not cancel things and to not give up on them.  The children that participate in the program have the ‘normal’ kid stress along with other obstacles.  Because of the family financial limitations and lack of transportation they cannot participate in many enrichment programs. They cannot expand their horizons outside of the community.  You all worked together to remove the obstacle of transportation and with the sponsorship allowed them to participate, to learn and to meet others.  You never canceled a rehearsal.  You never forgot to pick them up.  You encourage them to be their best and they were.  They absolutely were.”

At SSC we believe that the arts change lives. Our annual Chase Away the Winter Blues gala helps us fund partnership efforts such as this one with Algonquin Heights.  The year’s gala is Saturday, January 27 at the Boston Marriot Quincy, 1000 Marriot Drive in Quincy.  The SSC Youth Chorus will be featured performers that night.  For information about the Blues, the SSC Youth Chorus and Community Partnerships, visit sscmusic.org.

 

 

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