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A cappella concert in Northampton to benefit effort to house homeless youths



@mcfeeters
Friday, March 04, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Several a cappella groups are coming together at Smith College on Saturday in a benefit concert for the Hampshire County Friends of Homeless Individuals. It wants to buy a house in Northampton for unaccompanied homeless youths between 18 and 24, many of whom are becoming too old for foster care.

“These are the ones that are just cut loose, floating, in cars, out on the streets, maybe couch-surfing if they’re lucky,” the organization’s president Rick Hart said.

Six women’s college a cappella groups will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday in Helen Hills Hills Chapel at Smith College. They are the Smith College Vibes, Noteables, Smiffenpoofs and Smithereens, and the Mount Holyoke College M&Cs and Nice Shoes. The Celebrations Dance Company from Smith also will perform. Tickets are $10.

Brit Albritton, who is organizing the concert, said it builds on an annual holiday caroling program and offers a good chance to showcase local women’s a cappella groups, as well as to raise awareness about the Hampshire County Friends of Homeless Individuals’ latest initiative.

“If you get a stable place for someone to live, the odds of a successful transition without homelessness really skyrockets,” Albritton said.

Earlier this week, a dozen Smith students gathered in an upstairs Campus Center room, practicing a new arrangement of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and Demi Lovato’s “Confident.”

Vibes business manager and Smith senior Bianca Couture, 22, of Springfield, said the concert’s cause resonates particularly strongly with her because she and the other performers are so close in age to the homeless people they are supporting.

“It could’ve been any of us,” Couture said, adding that she was grateful to be contributing to a tangible community service project like a house.

Hampshire County Friends of Homeless Individuals previously bought two houses in Northampton, Hart said. One is dedicated to chronically homeless individuals, many of whom have mental health issues, and one is a sober house for those recovering from substance abuse. Now, the organization is looking to address another high-risk population: unaccompanied homeless youths.

The group is partnering with DIAL/SELF Youth and Community Services, a Greenfield agency dedicated to helping at-risk youth become independent, to run a Northampton house that could accommodate between eight and 10 people as well as provide support services. They are trying to raise around $750,000 for the house, hopefully through Community Preservation Act funds, several grants and community benefits like Saturday’s concert.

Hart said reaching 18 is a critical period for many young people who have spent their childhood and teenage years without a stable home.

“It’s a turning point,” Hart said. “We want to divert people at that turning point so they don’t go down that chute to longer homelessness for much of their lives.”

Stephanie McFeeters can be reached at smcfeeters@gazettenet.com.