"Seeing the pride they display during performances is priceless."
Musician & songwriter Christal Brown-Gibson, 32, founded a community chorus for children and youth living in rural communities near Charleston, S.C.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Christal: In 1996, I organized a Summer Music Camp for the children in my community. All the children who attended live in rural communities near Charleston, South Carolina. Approximately 50 children attended the three-week camp. I recruited six volunteers to assist me during this camp. I taught the campers songs, played piano music for them and implemented various activities involving music to enhance their camp experience. The ages of the campers were from 5-15. I taught some of the children solos to be performed at the culminating service, which helped to boost their self-esteem and show their peers and parents their developed talents. This made the children feel good about themselves.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Christal: The Christal Brown Youth Chorus is in Charleston, SC. We currently rehearse at our local YMCA every week.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Christal: The children have recorded two CDs displaying their musical gifts. The children currently sing at local events and travel to share their music with others. The children of this choir benefit greatly in that they are able to participate in a positive activity instead of getting involved in negative ones. The children develop a sense of pride because they can express themselves through their music. They build lasting relationships with each other through extensive hours in rehearsal and traveling to sing. This organization has proven that children exhibit more positive behavior when they feel like they "belong" to something (i.e., a community youth chorus).
What inspired you to get involved?
Christal: I grew up in a rural community with limited resources for gifted children or even children interested in music. Very few families could afford to send their children to private lessons. Most households, including mine, were headed by single parents who had to work more than one job. Thus, the talents in young people in my community went untapped.
There was a neighborhood childhood friend of mine who was what's known today as a "latchkey" kid. He had four siblings, and his mom was a single parent who worked one job from 7am-4pm, came home for two hours, and returned to a different job from 7pm-midnight. This boy got into neighborhood fights, stealing, breaking windows in people's homes, etc. Needless to say, he is presently serving time in prison because these childhood activities escalated and continued in his adulthood. When I saw him (in prison) after serving only five months of his 25 year-sentence, he is now a musician/choir director at the prison where he is incarcerated. He never had formal training nor the discipline that comes with it.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Christal: I first got involved when some parents kept hearing of every kind of camp in my area except a music camp. I started teaching piano in my home and would constantly hear about children who wanted to learn but "Mom didn't have enough money or time.”
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Christal: The best thing about my experience is seeing the young children develop their unknown talents. Seeing the pride they display during performances is priceless. Being able to perform in places they've never been or probably would've never gotten to go is rewarding.
What is/was the hardest part?
Christal: The hardest part is having a child who wants to participate, and the parent doesn't allow it for reasons that seem invalid, such as, "I don't have the money to buy the $5 T-shirt that they need for their uniform,” or "He didn't clean his room, so he can't sing at tonight's concert.” Using the choir as punishment seems incorrect to me. Motivating children with encouragement is the route I choose to take.
What was the biggest surprise?
Christal: The biggest surprise is when the parents tell me how much the children love the choir and how they talk to their peers about being involved in the choir.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Christal: As the chorus has expanded, my time management and organization skills have improved tremendously. I have also learned how impressionable children are. As a parent of a toddler, I have changed from being so stoic to letting children be expressive in their talents. My two-year old son sings many of the songs he hears me sing. Being involved in this children's chorus has made me a better parent.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Christal: Volunteering is priceless. Giving of yourself is far greater than any gift or amount of money that you can give. Volunteering is the greatest act of giving that anyone can give.
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