For nearly a dozen years on Monday nights, anywhere from 5 to 45 people have gathered for dinner and choir rehearsal in Spokane, Wash. Far from being a stuffy formal rehearsal, kids are running around and adults are sharing stories. Choir members help write the music on occasion and they often sing of hope out of despair. HeartSongs from the Voiceless is the current iteration of effort to give homeless families a voice. (listen)
Teen-aged Emma Christie discovered her voice. “I found my genuine self there because I can be me and not be told to be someone I am not. It is a place where I can express myself in the songs we write as a choir. I also get be show myself through leadership and mentoring the other youth that come to the choir.”
Christie said her family began attending the communal event when her family moved to transitional housing. And though her family now has its own home, she continues to participate. “I get to meet so many people and hear their stories. And no one is the same on how they got here,” she said.
Rev. Redhawk Rice-Sauer, pastor of Covenant Christian Church, is the group’s organizer. “I started the choir in February of 2002 in a partnership with SNAP. I found people that were hungry, folks in need of clothes and education, children that needed mentoring and families in need of homes. I also found groups of people and institutions that were responding to all of the above. I did not find, however, anyplace that sought to empower the homeless by sharing their stories or just offering an opportunity to have some fun with their families. I am a songwriter and a guitar banger and my inclination is to do what I do so I sought to put my gifts where I thought they would serve best.”
The song writing came along within a couple of weeks of the choir’s beginning. “Many times our song writing becomes more than song writing as we address some pretty heavy issues in our group. We wrote a song called Run4UrLife, about domestic violence. It hurt like hell! We had children as young as 6 sharing family strategies to distract ‘Dad’ so a cell phone could be tossed to a child to call 911. It took us about a month to write that song and everyone, at one time or another, shed tears in either their own or another’s behalf,” Rice-Sauer said. (Listen to a song written and performed by the choir)
Through partnerships over the years with SNAP (federal aid for families), Salvation Army, community centers and other local service groups, the choir invites homeless families to their community. Many of the families that have managed to find housing still come to give support to others through “peer shepherding” that keeps encouraging when folks are ready to give up.
The major partner these days is Family Promise, a program through local churches that feeds and houses families while they try to find homes and reintegrate through jobs and education. Rice-Sauer and his teen “librarians” also make sure there are books around. When families get a home, the church and other choir members help fill the pantry.
Rice-Sauer said, “This is a ministry of great effort, energy and creativity. I would invite any and all who have the spirit, to give it a try. For me, the big thing was and is to not think I know what ‘it’ is. The choir defined itself on so many fronts and it took me a few years to loosen up and get over my own pre-conceptions of what it ‘was supposed to be.’ This type of ministry cannot be taken lightly as I found that the biggest gift and responsibility given to me has been that of trust by those who don’t really trust very many people.” He continues, “Leaders must be able to let go of their own stuff and have a perpetual attitude of playfulness (It took the choir about three years to grow this in me). This is a ministry of empathy, play, compassion and empowerment.” (see video “Who I Am”)