Ten years ago, Ellen Hudson, now advocacy coordinator with the Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities, was approached by one of the adults receiving services from WCBDD with a unique opportunity to help make dreams come true.
Like many aspiring musicians, Gwen Smith dreamed of getting the golden ticket to Hollywood on the hit singing reality show American Idol.
“I told her that I don’t think we are ready for American Idol; however, maybe we could get together and sing. This conversation ignited a fire within me,” Ellen says.
Gwen and Ellen began to brainstorm how they could make the dream come true for local singers who may not have the opportunities to audition but simply want to share the joy of music.
Ellen knew they were onto something that would make a positive impact on adults with developmental disabilities. From her time as a church choir director, she was well aware of the power music can have and the sense of unity it can bring to a community. Ellen took her proposal for a new choir to the board where she found strong support.
"Ellen approached the administration about the possibility of offering this as a weekly opportunity for those attending the adult services program, prior to privatization," says Rhonda Schutte, community integration coordinator with Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities. "She was quickly approved to offer choir practice and had no problem generating interest by many."
Through the universal language of music, Voices of Warren County was established for people to communicate across lifestyle, cultural and linguistic boundaries in ways they could not with ordinary words and speech. Music has the power to evoke deep feelings at the core of the shared human experience.
“The most exciting feeling is watching some of the individuals who struggle with speaking during a conversation learn songs and sing out,” Ellen says. “Music is so therapeutic.”
Throughout the past decade, Voices of Warren County has performed in many concerts for the community as well as several high-profile events. In 2012, the choir performed at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati in the "Popular Choral Music" category. Most recently, the group held its holiday concert alongside special guest Emily Hogeback, a bluegrass and country musician who was born blind. They also enjoyed performing on Dec. 1 as part of the annual Lebanon Carriage Parade and Festival.
Locally, the group performs two concerts per year at the Warren C. Young Center in Lebanon, as well as many other shows at area schools, churches, festivals and retirement communities. All performances are free and open to the public, and the choir does not charge a performance fee to perform in the community.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past spring, the choir recognized 12 members who have been with the choir since the beginning. The choir operates under the mission of the Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities: Supporting people with developmental disabilities and their families to achieve what is important to them.
“I love music and learning new songs. I like the friendships that I have made, and I love going out into the community to perform. I love my solo parts too,” says choir member Alexis Bodzin.
Currently, at 30 members, the Voices of Warren County is looking to grow in 2019. The choir offers open enrollment in January and June each year for those interested in joining. Individuals do not have to audition for the Voices of Warren County; however, members are expected to attend rehearsals on Thursday nights as well as community events. As the group continues to grow in size, they hope to increase the number of performances in the community.
"For me, the Voices of Warren County offers our individuals an opportunity to connect, to be part of something larger," Rhonda says. "Our director is wonderful at identifying members' individual strengths, even if it is for just a few powerful words in the midst of a song. Ellen teaches discipline and reminds everyone, 'We are one choir.'"