Our Newest Hit: SYM Talent Night

Three times a year we re-invent ourselves at SYM by trying new activities that keep things fresh for our clients. You can imagine what a daunting task this can be, after 11 years! (It’s the reason our Drop-in Center is full of clients who are engaged and changing their lives.)

This past May I faced a dilemma. I didn’t have the ideas I wanted to form our summer schedule, but a staff member had brought forward one idea that I couldn’t quite put down: Talent Night.

I could imagine the risks: bad singing, lurid lyrics, rowdy behavior, arguments over style and preference. My head was swimming. Somehow, though, I couldn’t shake the idea, so we gave it a try. And when we try something, we stick to it until the end of the “semester” (in this case, summer). We know our clients thrive on this kind of consistency. Here’s how it went:

At the first Talent Night, our staff provided half the performances, but soon we figured out how to improve participation: stay open only as long as someone is performing. Give everyone who signs up one turn, plus an encore. When it’s over, that’s it.

Amazingly, more and more clients came and shared. We’ve had singing, lip syncing, dancing, original rap songs, poetry, guitar and piano playing. We’ve even had origami and a dog that sings. It adds up to this: every evening now, something magic occurs!

What I saw at one of our recent Talent Nights made my heart soar, and I want to share with you several of the performances that made that happen:

● One of the first acts was a dog that simply howls when he hears sirens. They wail, he starts and pretty soon, everyone howls along with him.

● A new client — who until recently had mostly avoided us — signed up to sing. Like some we serve, he’d had negative experiences with Christians early in his life and was convinced they hated him. But we love him and accept him just as he is. And he sang – oh my, did he sing! Not pop or angry rap. He sang “Faithfully,” by Journey in a stunning tenor voice. The magic started right then.

● The next clients to perform used lyrics everyone could see, and the crowd joined in. Talent Night stopped being about performing and started being about community.

● Next came a young lady who had been spitting mad at us the day before as she struggled with significant issues. We persevered with her, helping as we were able. Her song of choice wasn’t anti-establishment or a “woe is me — my life is terrible” number. It was “Hallelujah,” the standard written by Leonard Cohen. We were using our homespun system – a mic and TV sound bar – but about three lines into her performance, I turned it off. She didn’t need it! Her voice filled the room and the crowd, suddenly riveted, cheered with her. It was magic!

● Toward night’s end, a client we recognized as struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues appeared. He had rarely communicated with us, and he had seemed unable to focus or sit still. When he noticed we were giving performers candy as prizes, he wrote his name and the title of a rap song. To my surprise, he knew every word! He even did a second encore. The audience was impressed, and afterward when I told him I was so happy he came and sang, he replied, “You’re welcome.”

I love the job I get to do every day. It is such an honor and privilege to work for these young people. One way or another, they have been told they are throwaways, worthless and unwanted. They are NOT! They are so precious. And talented!

Thanks be to God we get to share time with them! And thank you for helping make it happen!


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