Residents of O.C. Rescue Mission’s Village of Hope transitional housing program enjoy a night at the Pacific Symphony.
They passed other concertgoers sipping wine and enjoying picnic dinners on the grass as they headed to a covered pavilion with other residents from the Village of Hope transitional housing program for homeless men, women and children.
“Smile, sweetheart, no matter how you feel inside,” her friend encouraged Smart, who had been feeling a little nauseous before the bus ride from the Village complex in Tustin.
Box meals and soft drinks provided by Bristol Farms Catering awaited them in a VIP section, along with something else that perked up Smart.
“Wow, look at this!” she said at the sight of the delicate lilies and orchids in centerpieces that graced each table inside the pavilion. “Look at these beautiful bouquets. Did they do this for us?”
“They” would be the Pacific Symphony’s Heartstrings program, which provides underserved people in the community access to symphony performances.
Many Village of Hope residents attending the recent Sunday night concert as guests of the symphony experienced their first live classical performance.
Often, the adults at Village of Hope are working to overcome substance abuse that landed them on the streets, in trouble with the law, and, in some cases, separated from their children.
It was an extra-special night for Smart, who turned 42 that day. She came dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved checkered shirt, with a baseball cap pulled low on her brow. But once inside the amphitheater, she swept up her thick, curly hair and tucked an orchid from one of the centerpieces beside the bun she fashioned.
Her Village of Hope neighbors sang “Happy Birthday” to her and enjoyed cupcakes that her friend had made as a surprise. Smart thanked them while wiping tears from her cheeks.
She would cry again an hour later when guest artist Leslie Lewis, a vocalist with the show band JT & Friends, sang “Somewhere” from the Broadway musical “West Side Story.”
The concert was a mix of classical pieces by Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Brahms and Wagner and hits by the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and other popular music acts.
“Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s so uplifting,” said Smart, who has been at the Village of Hope for eight months and was enjoying her first group outing since arriving. “When you come from a place that’s broken, these songs are encouraging and inspiring.”
SOUL AND INSPIRATION
Village of Hope was opened in 2008 by faith-based nonprofit Orange County Rescue Mission.
The 192-bed campus – a converted U.S. Marine Corps barracks on a 5-acre site – provides not only housing, but a comprehensive one- to two-year program designed to stabilize the lives of its inhabitants and help them become self-sufficient.
There’s counseling, parenting guidance, education and job search services. And there are rules that include attending chapel services, and limitations on having visitors and leaving the campus without an escort.
The “students,” as the Rescue Mission refers to the population at Village of Hope, are expected to work on their program to achieve the goals they are required to set.
But there is room for enrichment, too. That’s where the Pacific Symphony plays a role.
“Our whole thing is about giving them experiences that make them feel better about themselves,” says Sarah Bucek, the Rescue Mission’s manager of events and volunteer resources. “When you surround them with beauty and beautiful music, that adds beauty to their soul.”
The Heartstrings program, launched eight years ago, includes hands-on musical activities for children as well as transportation and admission to Pacific Symphony concerts at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and outdoor summer performances at the Verizon venue in Irvine.
Heartstrings was expanded from a school-based program to include social service organizations that work with adults at the urging and support of symphony patron Roberta Ahmanson, said Pam Blaine, vice president of education and community engagement for the Pacific Symphony.The relationship with the Village of Hope began with a small on-site concert in the chapel in 2010. That annual tradition continues but has moved outdoors to the courtyard at the complex.
Shavonn Schock has lived at Village of Hope for the past year and a half and now works full time for a company that sells real estate in Belize. The opportunity to see the Pacific Symphony has inspired her to bring more arts and culture into her daughter’s life. She planned to enroll the 5-year-old in ballet and take her to a Broadway in the Park performance in Tustin in the coming weeks.
“I just want to show her that she can do stuff like that rather than doing drugs or being bored,” Schock said.
The trips to see the symphony are typically attended by 20 to 30 Village of Hope residents. There have been minor issues with a population largely unaware of classical concert etiquette.
They’ve gotten shushed by others in the audience for clapping and calling out to the stage while the musicians are still playing, or commenting too loudly to each other. But that kind of enthusiasm is ultimately a good thing, Blaine said.
“The level of engagement from some of them, and because they are so demonstrative, it’s just fabulous,” Blaine said. “It demonstrates the power of music. You can see it in their faces. They’re completely engrossed in the experience.” One man from Village of Hope was so taken by Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St.Clair during the “Roll Over Beethoven” concert that he remarked to everyone, “He’s actually telling them when to play with his hands!”
A BUDDING CONDUCTOR
The youngest member of the Village of Hope group was excited to go see “the instruments” again. That’s what 3 year-old Julian Marquez calls the Pacific Symphony.
Julian and another little boy, 4, were the only children joining the Village of Hope residents that night. Last month, Julian attended his first classical concert, a night of music from popular video games performed at the amphitheater. He loved it, said his mom, Jenni Tims, who recalled going to the opera once with her father as a little girl, but not the symphony.