Watch as Voices Of Our City Choir performs at an event in the video below.
Video credit: Voice of Our City Choir
Ayoe Rydiander entered a local church in San Diego to charge her phone as she had to make an important call but what she saw there left her mesmerized – the choir rehearsal for Voices Of Our City Choir was going on in the church.
The 58-year-old lady, who had by then forgotten why she entered the church, was completely captivated by the melodious choir she was hearing.
“I was like, ‘Sign me up right away,’” she said. Though Rydiander had been homeless for about 2 months, all her worries had suddenly vanished at the moment.
Voices Of Our City Choir is a choir created for homeless people in San Diego, in which they sing everything from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to “Over The Rainbow.”
It was founded in 2016 by Steph Johnson, a 38-year-old professional guitarist, to increase the continuously worsening problem of homelessness in the city she had spent her whole life.
“Homelessness had just exploded,” Johnson told HuffPost.
“So many more people were on the street. … I saw all these people getting arrested, and all their things getting thrown away.”
It all began when Johnson started meeting homeless people on the streets, often playing tunes with them to ease their pain.
“Just kind of hanging. Getting to know people,” she said.
Johnson decided to set up the choir for homeless people in San Diego after she met a woman who had taken a similar initiative in Chicago.
The guitarist made all the arrangements and sought a church to host the weekly practices – hence, Voices Of Our City Choir was born.
At the first practice session, just one person showed up. However, Johnson didn’t give up and continued her efforts to spread the word.
Owing to her tireless devotion, the number of people kept increasing in every choir practice until they reached a whopping 160.
Since then, the members of the choir have performed tens of times at several high profile events including the San Diego Music Awards.
Voices Of Our City Choir has rekindled the spirit of life in many of the homeless people in the city, such as 52-year-old Brady.
Brady never liked to participate in the choir. One day he agreed to help set up the sound system in the church before a practice session. “Then Steph roped me into sitting down and actually singing,” he said.
At the time, Brady was homeless for more than a year. But the man had seen good times before.
He had worked on several high-profile jobs such as a marketing consultant in Dallas and a vice president of sales for a San Francisco marketing agency.
However, on Christmas Eve 2004, Brady became the victim of a brutal homophobic hate crime. He was attacked in his car in West Hollywood and received 15 stitches in his face.
From there, everything took a downhill path for him.
“My mistake was, I really didn’t get good, solid, ongoing mental health treatment and support after that hate crime,” he said. “So I struggled with addiction on and off for a period of years.”
Brady had nearly given up everything and had even attempted to end his life several times.
But since joining Voices Of Our City, Brady has turned into a totally different person. He has developed a more positive outlook on life and he no longer relies on drugs to escape his problems.
And Brady is not the only person who has undergone the transformative experience.
“I build my life around choir practice,” said Rydiander. “We need it like oxygen. It takes the place of addiction. I need another dose of choir every week.”
Rydiander has managed to control her alcohol addiction ever since she joined the choir. She has recently left a shelter and moved into a sober living house.
“The confidence and strength that I gained through the choir … is what gave me the energy to go out in the community and research what was available to me,” she said.
“I wasn’t broken anymore. It gave me strength I needed.”
Financially strengthened by generous donations, the choir has also started its own advocacy program for the homeless community of San Diego at large.
Brady has now formal employment at Voices Of Our City as its director of operations and advocacy. He has also got an apartment of his own.
The choir’s advocacy efforts are directed at amplifying the voices of a community that is often ignored.
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