Church Seeks Instruments for Concert Band for the Homeless
Above: Shawn Kenney, music director of Holy Family Church, seated in the room where Kenney hopes the church’s band will soon begin rehearsals.
If Shawn Kenney has his way, Franklinton’s Holy Family Church will soon become the first Columbus Catholic parish with a concert band aimed at giving homeless people a chance to connect and a reason for hope.
Kenney, Holy Family’s organist and music director, is the engine behind the creation of the parish’s concert band. The group will be open to everyone, including parishioners and members of the large homeless community around the W. Broad Street church and its soup kitchen.
“Right behind Holy Family, there’s a huge woods area, right over the railroad tracks, and there are hundreds of people living in what we call Tent Village,” Kenney said. “And they’re right here, people right here in Columbus living in the woods.”
Many of Franklinton’s homeless eat meals at Holy Family’s soup kitchen, which serves 600 to 800 meals daily. Kenney gets to meet and get to know the visitors, many of whom, he says, were members of their high school choirs or bands. So Kenney invites them to join the church’s English, Latin or Homeless Choirs, and now also the concert band – all with the goal of helping them get back on their feet.
“The people in the music groups that I’ve brought in, I’ve noticed in general that we get them up, and they stay up, which is phenomenal,” Kenney said. “(The music) kind of gives them hope and something to look forward to while we’re working with them to get them cleaned up or to get them off the street.”
Voices of the Homeless
That’s what happened to Holy Family parishioner Martin Mazur. In 2006 Mazur, a handyman, lost everything when all of his tools were stolen from his home. He lived off savings and income from odd jobs while looking for more substantial work in a floundering economy. When the economy collapsed in 2008, Mazur wound up homeless. He lived in his car for four years.
“That was a good many nights in tears thinking about where my next meal was coming from, how am I going to take care of my kids, how am I going to take care of myself?” Mazur said. “That was a lot of lonely, crying nights.”
Eventually Mazur made his way to Holy Family, where a member of the clergy found him a place in a nearby homeless shelter. When Kenney learned that Mazur had years before sung in rock bands, Kenney invited Mazur to join the choir and get back into singing. Sometimes Mazur would bring friends from the homeless shelter with him to choir rehearsals. Some of them kept coming back. Holy Family’s Homeless Choir was born.
Today, Mazur works full time and lives not at the homeless shelter, but in his own apartment, thanks to help from Kenney and the clergy at Holy Family. Mazur credits his experiences at Holy Family – including Kenney’s encouragement to start singing again – with helping to get him back on track.
“When I came here, I was like a very lonely child. I didn’t feel like the man I always was. But it was (Kenney and the clergy) that gave me that uplifting encouragement, that little boost,” Mazur said.
When Kenney has enough instruments to launch the concert band, that group will supplement Holy Family’s other existing outreach initiatives to the poor and homeless. So far, the church has received donations of a few brass instruments, part of a drum set and a pair of accordions. But Kenney needs many more instruments- as well as music stands – for a full-size concert band. And some of those instruments have hefty price tags.
“What’s hard is the percussion instruments – timpani, xylophone, snare drum – they’re expensive, and not everybody would have a set of timpani in their house,” Kenney said. “And a set of timpani can get between $6,000 and $10,000 for a middle-range set. So that’s something we wouldn’t have the money for but would be pretty essential to having a good-sized concert band. But any donation we get in, it’s wonderful.”
In his previous career as a high school band director, Kenney had plenty of experience repairing band instruments, and he says he’s prepared to bring used instruments back to working order. He’s also equipped to teach would-be band members how to play instruments in order to join the band. And once the band’s up and running, Kenney plans to lead it in performances around Columbus.
But in the end, for Kenney, the Holy Family concert band project isn’t really about the music.
“To get somebody off the street and back into the real world, that’s my goal,” Kenney said. “And when it actually happens, it’s the best feeling you’ve ever felt in your life.”