First Church, Family Promise Host 11th Annual Homelessness Benefit

Family Promise of Lorain County has partnered with the Conservatory for more than a decade to host annual classical music concerts to raise money for the county’s homeless population. This year, the series’ 11th installment, taking place this Sunday at the First Church in Oberlin, will feature a quartet of notable Oberlin jazz musicians instead of the typical classical ensemble.

Lois Pozega, the organization’s executive director, said the shift was made as part of a concerted effort to revitalize the event. “Last year the attendance was down, so the [planning] committee got together [and] asked, ‘What can we do differently?’”

The result was a decision to change the event’s typical program, which has previously always included classical music while juggling shifting lineups of College and Conservatory students, faculty, community members and even musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra. Pozega said she is excited about the change.

“It is very different, and I think the community will really pull together to attend,” she said. “These benefit concerts can bring [the] community together and help the homeless. Music soothes the soul and … it’s such a good [way] … to help Family Promise.”

According to the organization’s website, Family Promise serves Lorain’s homeless population, which the Corporation for Supported Housing estimated at about 570 people in 2017, by providing a family center where people can go during the day for services including career and housing assistance, and by partnering families with religious congregations that provide meals and shelter.

Paul Samuels, visiting teacher of Jazz Studies and drummer of the four-piece ensemble performing this Sunday, said that he volunteered to take part after hearing about the organization.

“It’s an awesome cause, and I am happy to [be doing] this,” Samuels said. “If you have a different audience, you are going to bring awareness to people who didn’t know about it. It’s always a great idea that there are partnerships between the College and community, and this is also a learning experience for young people who have thought about what it might mean to be homeless. It might open up their hearts.”

Aidan Plank, an Oberlin native and fixture in the Cleveland jazz scene, will be joining Samuels, Associate Professor of Jazz Piano Dan Wall and Professor of Jazz Guitar Bobby Ferrazza in the ensemble. He echoed Samuels’ excitement about bringing people together from throughout the Oberlin community around the charity.

“Growing up in Oberlin and being the son of a professor at the Conservatory, I could never personally separate aspects of my life that were influenced by both the College and city,” Plank wrote in an email to the Review. “I learned how to play the bass in the Oberlin Public Schools and at the Conservatory of Music. My life has always been wrapped up in [this] relationship to both College and community. The great joy of my life is getting to create music with people that have different backgrounds and experiences from me and finding … common ground with them in the mutual love of creating music. I think it’s quite wonderful to be given the opportunity to make music to try to raise money for Family Promise. It is very much in the spirit of what both the city of Oberlin and Oberlin College aspire to be, mainly a source of peace, compassion and wisdom in the world.”

Samuels and the rest of the ensemble are hopeful that the concert will use people’s connection to music to facilitate a connection to Family Promise in addition to bringing people together.

“It’s been a part of my life since day one, music in general and jazz later on, and it’s been an inspiration on so many levels, spiritually, education-wise and in terms of history of this continent,” Samuels said. “I look at all music as ministering to others. Hopefully, [the concert] can bring people together and give people something to think about. Hopefully, [they] find the music engaging enough to bring something away, [and] hopefully it will be uplifting enough in the end that people don’t only connect to the music but also [to] the cause.”

The 11th annual benefit concert for Family Promise of Lorain County is on Sunday, April 2 at 3 p.m. at The First Church in Oberlin. Admission is free.