Back from the brink, Harmony stays in tune with youth

Paul Kearney strums the guitar while Kassy Ross sings at the Harmony for Youth centre in downtown’s Bayside Centre. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Nineteen-year-old Kassy Ross didn’t realize she could sing when she joined Harmony for Youth as a kid.

Now she sings a cappella, plays ukulele and is assistant director of the Harmony choir.

“I came to Harmony for the first time when I was 12 or 13,” she said. “I was just looking for friends and something to do.

No matter how shy they are upon arrival, Harmony with its afterschool programs, music classes and pay-it-forward attitude has a way of building self-esteem and bringing the best out in children, said board member Paul Kearney.

“It’s about self-worth and self-esteem in youth and the vehicle we use is the arts,” he said. “Kassy is a perfect example.”

Harmony was founded by the late Joanne Klauke-LaBelle, who taught music and wanted to provide a fun and accepting place for Sarnia’s young people.

Kearney has been involved since Harmony received charitable status in 1998. He’s seen the organization move from its long-time home on Campbell Street to downtown’s Bayside Centre two years ago. He’s seen Harmony on strong financial footing with paid staff and international attention on TV.

He’s also seen hard times when paid staff were laid off and Harmony had no home for several months.

“We went through a really tough time in 2015,” he said. “We were cash strapped and our lessons had to be offered in private homes.

“It took dedication but the board has always truly believed in what Harmony has to offer.”

Today, Harmony has a drop-in centre at Bayside and is run by a small group of volunteers who organize, fundraise and teach everything from keyboards to painting.

About 150 to 175 of city youth participate in programs and there is no monetary cost to attend.

Kearney said he has personally seen kids and adults find their voice through Harmony.

This summer, a few unexpected projects and donations have put Harmony on solid financial footing for the time being, but fundraising is always a challenge. It costs $80,000 to $100,000 a year to keep the doors open.

The kids who get so much from the programs are also largely responsible for generating revenue whether it’s through choir performances, assisting with special events or helping with garage sales.

For example, there’s a garage sale at Harmony this Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2p.m and another one on Sept. 16.

The choir will also be out at this year’s Art Under Glass, an annual showcase for the work of southwestern Ontario artists on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

More than 18 painters, potters, jewelry makers, woodworkers and photographers will sell their wares indoors at DeGroot’s greenhouses. About half the artists are from Sarnia.

The event, now in its fourth year, attracts thousands, said Kearney. He is also a watercolour artist and involved with Art Under Glass.

Harmony is the chosen charity to receive a portion of the proceeds from Art Under Glass this year. Harmony members will be staffing a barbecue and a silent auction is planned.

WANT TO VOLUNTEER OR DONATE TO HARMONY?  Leave a message at 519-336-0344 or visit www.harmonyforyouth.org.

WANT TO ATTEND ART UNDER GLASS?  There’s no admission fee. DeGroot’s is at 1840 London Line. The sale runs Sept. 30 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and Oct. 1 (Noon – 4 p.m.)

The Arts Journal focuses on cultural activities in our community. Contact cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or call her at 226-932-0985.