This is the first in a series of stories about how Harmony, Hope & Healing helps those who participate in our programs--from the point of view of our participants and partners.
Currently we partner with 9 agencies that run shelters, day-treatment centers, and other places for people who are in recovery from homelessness, addiction, violence and other trauma.
We've always felt music is the pathway to healing for individuals and communities; for this project, we decided to ask our program participants and partners to tell us what they get out of an HHH program session. Photographer Dan Pels joined us to take the pictures that accompany each of these stories.
"We have lots of different programs for the guys,” says Sister Sharon Bossler, volunteer coordinator at St. Leonard’s House. A longtime HHH partner, the West Side program site's mission is to provide a setting in which men and women recently released from prison can set a new course as believing individuals want to lead productive and whole lives.
Singing with Harmony, Hope & Healing resembles other sessions she’s arranged that bring a poet to the shelter, or psychologists from Adler School of Psychology, she says. But the element of song makes it unique, she says. Actually reflecting on the words of songs they may have heard before, but never knew the words to, gives new meaning to the music as they sing, Bossler says. She has seen men copy down the lyrics to the songs they sing with HHH to think over between weekly sessions.
More than that, there's just the act of being in a circle and singing and making music together, Bossler adds.
“When people sing together, it’s wonderful to see the transformation, that happiness,” she says, noting that the men at St. Leonard’s House come to trust trust one another. That’s very different from their previous experience: “Prison is not a place you trust people or open up…. The singing, discussion, and experience of being in the circle together touches the heart and touches the emotions.”
Thomas Harris has been working in the kitchen at St. Leonard’s since 2013. The site welcomed him when he was looking for a place to relocate after serving a 10-year prison sentence that resulted from an alcohol-related fatality. He addressed his alcohol addiction in prison, and knew as his term was ending that he wanted to be somewhere he could practice the culinary arts he’d learned behind bars.
Harris says he may not always sit in the circle when he is busy in the kitchen, but says even then the music moves him: “I thank the Lord for HHH, because it’s fulfilling to those who want to change their life.”