Concert to benefit Refugees slated for Saturday



Pat Brown
Contributing writer

Photo by Pat Brown
Robert Trent directs students in the Radford University Guitar Ensemble as they rehearse for a Dec. 9 Christmas benefit for the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership. The twelve-member group includes two graduate students and 10 undergraduates who will perform Dec. 9 to support nine families who are starting life over in Blacksburg. The concert and sing-a-long will include a variety of music, including Christmas songs. Musicians from across the New River Valley will perform at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation site on Gladewood Drive in Blacksburg.

It’s Christmas, a time of making music and giving to those in need, so it came naturally for the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership to schedule a musical celebration and earmark donations for the nine adults and 19 children they support.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, musicians from Radford and Blacksburg will gather at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UUC) meeting place at 1301 Gladewood Drive in Blacksburg to perform at 7 p.m. in support of the refugees, who, starting in 2016, have come to Blacksburg from Syria and Afghanistan.

Usually proceeds from the Christmas concert go to pay the musicians who perform, but Lisa Liske-Doorandish, herself a cellist and a UUC member, suggested that this year the proceeds needed to go to the refugee families.

“I got the musicians to donate their time,” said Jared Gibbs, pianist at UUC and an organizer of the annual concert.

“There is always something (entertaining) around Christmas” at the UUC, said Molly McClintock, a spokesperson and board member for Blacksburg Refugee Partnership. This year, donations will go to support the six refugee families who are rebuilding their lives in Blacksburg.

“We hope the donations will be even bigger,” McClintock said.

In the days after Thanksgiving, Gibbs was busy organizing the program for the evening. He said the selections will range from classical to jazz and will be sprinkled with Christmas favorites. The evening will conclude with a sing-a-long.

More than two-dozen musicians from Blacksburg and Radford are volunteering their talents. Radford University’s 12-member guitar ensemble will perform, as will musicians from Community Cello Works and more performers from Virginia Tech flute ensemble.

There will be a jazz trio, a string ensemble and pianists. Somehow music that conjures Peanuts characters Lucy and Linus got on the program. Other numbers will bring an international flare to the evening.

Musician and singer Jim Flowers will be master of ceremonies.

UUC is not the only group supporting Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, McClintock said. “Ten faith communities and members of the Secular Society have pledged to help,” she explained.

The first family, a large one, arrived in 2016, McClintock said. Other families and single mothers with children have arrived since then.

“We help with housing, job searching, transportation, tutoring in English for everyone, academic tutoring for older students, medical case management, and childcare,” said McClintock. “We rely very heavily on Virginia Tech students for translating.”

Each family has its own liaison that helps the family in myriad ways. In each household, every adult is working on English language skills, working or actively looking for work. All the adult male refugees are employed, McClintock said.

“The goal is absolutely that they will become independent,” McClintock explained. “You can just see the families progress,” she said. After they become independent, “We hope we will be life-long friends.”

“We have taken on a great deal,” McClintock said, “and we always need more help with transportation and tutoring” plus more donations to help with rent that is not always fully covered, even for families that include a working adult.

McClintock said the idea for the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership evolved among three close friends. She said they watched news about refugees and asked each other, “Can’t we do anything about this?”

Now the non-profit partnership has grown into a large group of volunteers. The youngsters range in age from infant to 17. Just covering tutoring for the children who are old enough requires 40 people, she pointed out. Local tutors are especially needed during school breaks and over the summer.

At the UUC, Christmas concerts are always fun, McClintock said. This year the musical event also carries a strong sense of purpose.