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Folk Choir raises funds for south

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, January 18, 2007

When the University community headed south to the Sugar Bowl, the Notre Dame Folk Choir wasn’t far behind with one goal in sight – using its talent to benefit those in need.

The group’s Deep South Tour took choir members throughout the region from DATES, performing concerts that raised money solely for hurricane-ravaged Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) schools in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss.

“We’ve never done a tour where we say the entire tour is going to go to one thing,” Folk Choir director Steve Warner said.

Having a single goal and a familiarity with the ACE program “provided focus” for Folk Choir members, he said, and allowed choir members to “actually see at the end a final figure.”

Although the grand total of funds raised is yet to be determined, Warner said it would be “in excess of $55,000.”

Money was raised through free-will offerings at each of the Folk Choir’s 10 tour stops.

“We were really fortunate in that several alumni associations [in northern Florida and in Mobile] stepped up with $500 to $1,000 donations,” Warner said.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. also made a $10,000 donation – a contribution Warner said was “obviously something we were not counting on.”

Warner said the Folk Choir usually allows a parish to decide how to raise funds during the concert.

“Whenever the Folk Choir tours, we always do our work for free,” Warner said. “We say to the church, ‘You use us any way you want.'”

Parishes sometimes “dream very big” when the Folk Choir comes to town, he said, citing the scholarship task force campaign conducted by Saint Agnes Cathedral of Rockville Centre in Long Island, which raised a million and a half dollars before the Choir arrived.

Forty-two members of the choir traveled more than 3,600 miles by bus to perform in Nashville, Mobile, Ala., Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fla., Jacksonville, Fla., Savannah, Ga., Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, Charlotte, N.C., Alpharetta, Ga. and Columbus, Ohio.

These cities were chosen because “we knew there would be a strong financial backing and … because there was a tradition of ACE already working [in these areas],” Warner said. Columbus was chosen because it was on the route back to Notre Dame, he said.

Warner said the tour did not go to the Mississippi areas of Gulfport and Biloxi simply because “there was nothing there. No funds to be had.”

The Folk Choir began to work on the tour “as soon as Katrina hit,” Warner said, and he anticipated a media “drop off” in hurricane damage coverage.

While Warner said Sugar Bowl reporting included some coverage of the Katrina destruction, he thought there was more of a focus on the newly restored Louisiana Superdome.

“I think [the Superdome] is a very damaging icon because you can look at it and say ‘Wow, things are back to normal,’ while really, less than a mile from that place, things are still in crisis,” he said.

The tour was funded through normal club allocations with a little help from the Club Coordination Council and from World Library Publications from Chicago, Warner said. Students on the tour stayed with host families.

ACE staff members Amy Seamon and Matt Kloser spoke during the concerts about the ACE program and their goals, Warner said. They also discussed the problems that still stem from the hurricane damage, specifically on the Mississippi coastal areas.

“We’ve been given a wonderful gift of singing, but that doesn’t mean it ends with us,” Warner said. “We make music because we’re trying to make some kind of situation better for someone. So in that respect, it’s a fusion of arts and social justice.”