Eighteen years ago, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work had an idea. What if you could bring kids together to sing in a choir and, at the same time, give them the chance to develop competence, confidence, and individual potential? The idea became a program launched as an after-school music and youth development organization in St. Paul called CitySongs. In 2009, it became a part of the university’s new Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC) and moved its work to North Minneapolis.
A new Northside community partner, Plymouth Christian Youth Center, agreed to provide the youth development programming while Cheryl Reeves, its music director, continued to direct the choir and provide administrative leadership.
The past year has served as a pilot in the new location, with eight choir members who, although small in number, nevertheless performed with verve and talent at several community events, at two concerts at the Capri Theater, and at UROC’s open house in May.
Reeves is eager to recruit new kids to the choir and the program.
“We got our feet wet during the past year and the kids did a terrific job,” Reeves said. “But we’re excited about bringing in more children and building the program to a higher level with many more participants.”
To that end, Reeves is recruiting in the North Minneapolis schools, churches, community organizations, and anywhere people are interested in hearing about the opportunities that CitySongs can offer.
“Unlike many other performance programs, we don’t audition participants,” Reeves explains. “We also don’t charge any fees for participation. Through our 18 years of experience we’ve learned that any child who is willing to work hard and attend the program regularly can learn to sing well enough to make a positive contribution.”
CitySongs is for children in grades four through eight. It fosters healthy development by helping urban youth identify and reach their potential through diverse music participation and activities. It challenges youth to master music and performance skills, to make aesthetic contributions to their communities, to take leadership roles, and to set and achieve their goals.
In turn, these children provide live performances to inspire, strengthen, and vitalize their community.
Karen Goodenough, director of community programs for PCYC, provides the additional programming and support beyond the choir activities and supervises interns from the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College. The interns work with the choir members when the children aren’t rehearsing
“When the university came to us to discuss a partnership, we looked around and saw there were no youth choirs on the Northside,” Goodenough said. “We had our theater institute, the ability to do music recording, and a performance space with the Capri Theater. It seemed like it could be a very good fit.”
Goodenough said transportation can be an issue for some children who want to participate but can’t get to the location. This coming school year, PCYC will be able to provide van transportation for CitySongs participants who need it, through a grant from the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
“We hope to build more partnerships to support CitySongs,” Goodenough said. “It could be an enriching activity offered at several sites. I also hope we can bring in additional expertise from the U to build the program—people from youth studies and the music program, for example.”
In the meantime, Reeves is looking for children who enjoy singing and for parents who would like a diverse, active, and supportive after-school program for their children. She also would love to hear from potential volunteers who can help with the program, and from donors who would be willing to provide CitySongs with financial support.