Coming home for the holidays can be hard for anyone who has lost a loved one in the last year. The Christmas season is even harder for those who have no home.
The Grand Rapids Symphony opened its home in DeVos Hall to a group of homeless children invited to attend a recent performance of the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops.
“The holidays are a really rough time for these kids,” said Dale Hovenkamp, partnership and collaboration specialist for the Grand Rapids Symphony.
The orchestra opened its heart as well with a behind-the-scenes tour, lunch with musicians, Christmas presents and a visit from Santa Claus prior to a recent Holiday Pops matinee.
Arbor Circle, a Grand Rapids Symphony partner, brought 45 youngsters to DeVos Hall for the unique holiday happening on Saturday, Dec. 8.
“These are youth who have experienced trauma,” said Janelle Hill, director of community engagement at Arbor Circle, a community service organization in Grand Rapids that assists more than 20,000 people per year to overcome life’s unexpected challenges.
Youngsters attended a back-stage lunch with Symphony musicians just prior to the mid-afternoon concert. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt also spent time with them.
“The kids really loved that the adults sat with them,” Hovenkamp said.
Santa Claus stopped by to deliver gifts to the youngsters. Some were hats and gloves, but most of the gifts were brand-new books donated to the Grand Rapids Symphony or bought with funds raised by the orchestra’s auxiliary, Grand Rapids Symphony Friends, which raised $1,000 for the event.
Books & Mortar Bookstore in Grand Rapids offered the books for sale at a 20 percent discount for the event. The books included early reader books, activity books, blank journals and illustrated non-fiction books about such topics as dinosaurs, space, weather, animals and trains.
“We had people who donated money as well as people who dropped off gifts,” said Bonnie Monheit, Co-President of Symphony Friends. “There definitely is a need.”
The remaining gifts and contributions were donated to Arbor Circle, which offers more than 50 programs in counseling, education and prevention that addresses mental health, substance use and family concerns.
Youngsters were seated in a group in the mezzanine for the 3 p.m. matinee featuring performances by guest bass-baritone Justin Hopkins, who also spent time visiting with the kids backstage prior to the concert. Hopkins had previously performed for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in 2016.
“Seeing Justin on stage singing ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ was a really special experience for them,” Hovenkamp said.
Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus plus guest handbell ensemble, Embellish, performed music including Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”, the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, and music from the 1990 film Home Alone.
“It was a nice, family experience,” Hill said. “Hopefully, they’ll come to the next concert.”
Last May, Arbor Circle, at its Annual Spring Dinner, honored the Grand Rapids Symphony for its Symphony Scorecard program, which provides free tickets to area residents who receive financial assistance from the state of Michigan or to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
“That was a big deal for us,” Hovenkamp said.
Last summer, Arbor Circle brought a group of youngsters to “Symphony on the West Side,” a free, outdoor-concert held in July at John Ball Zoo as part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Neighborhood Concert Series.
“It was really cool,” Hill said. “Even when it started raining.”