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Shelter House, UI collaborate to form choir

BY SARAH BULMER | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The sound of music floated through the halls of the Shelter House. Ten choir members, including several residents, sat in a small room singing “Prayer, Love, Light, and Peace.”

The sound drifted into the lobby, where fellow residents slowly trickled in to listen.

“When we were singing, some residents stopped by, and [some] of them even sang some phrases with us,” said Hsin-Yi Cheng, a University of Iowa music-therapy graduate student from Taiwan and a central organizer of the Shelter House choir.

James Mitchell, a Shelter House resident from Iowa, played “The Nazarene,” by Michael Card, on an acoustic guitar, as he sang, “For he was unlike any other man / And yet so much like me.”

The choir is the result of a collaborative effort between residents and volunteers from the UI. The program, which started rehearsals three weeks ago, is just one of several initiatives at the Shelter House’s new location, 429 Southgate Ave., that aims to educate the community about homelessness and build client connections to a community beyond homeless shelter volunteers.

“The client [is] able to form relationships with people who are focused on things other than their current crisis,” said Phoebe Trepp, the Shelter House’s director of program development.

The center has seen a large increase in volunteer members since the program switched locations and increased space, she said.

“This is an opportunity to get [clients] in the Shelter House connected to the community,” said Khalda Mohieldin, who volunteers with the choir.

Residents and volunteers hail from California to the New York to China, and as the group sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” smiles and laughter filled the air.

UI Assistant Professor Mary Cohen started the choir and composed some of the music.

“It gives both sides opportunities to meet each other in a safe, stress-free environment,” she said.

Cohen composed the music for a song originally written by an inmate at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale, where she runs a choir as well, and for “Prayer, Love, Light, and Peace,” which opens every rehearsal.

The shelter has striven to create more programs in its new location, which sleeps 70 people; the previous facility on North Gilbert Street slept 29. Volunteers focus on helping clients move beyond homelessness through confidence-enhancing workshops and counseling sessions.

According to the Shelter House website, homelessness in Iowa is often linked to low wages, high rent and mortgage prices, and domestic abuse.

“The overarching issue is poverty. People often lack a safety net,” said Crissy Canganelli, the Shelter House executive director.

The choir also provides residents with a therapeutic environment in which they are able to openly discuss music and song lyrics, she said.

“This choir is a method to break down this notion of ‘other’ and to see through music and song that there’s more that we have in common than not,” Canganelli said.


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