ZELIENOPLE — It's not every day that a group of friends singing together can raise more than $13,000 for local charities, as they did from their Christmas concerts last month. With Circle of Friends performing every six months thousands pour in.
Circle of Friends is a choir that touts its mission statement of sharing faith in God through Christian and secular music while supporting communities in need.
“The key (to our group) is to make sure we are inclusive,” said its creative director, David English.
Even if it means learning a different language — including Swahili — English said the group picks a wide range of songs, including ones from the movie “The Greatest Showman” or from pop groups such as One Direction that were included in last spring's concert.
“We kind of teach with a subliminal message,” English said of the chorus' goal for diversity. “Once people hear and learn, they respect it.”
Circle of Friends prides itself in never touching donated funds, English said. Dues alone sustain the choir, and all the money gathered at shows is given to a chosen charity.
Charities are vetted by the choir before being picked as beneficiaries, partially because the charity must provide performance space. It's common for churches to provide space on behalf of a charity so the beneficiary may receive more funding.
Some of the organizations helped in the past include those that work with suicide prevention, food cupboards and ministries that send children to summer camps. Circle of Friends has even expanded its reach to aid countries in Asia and Africa in the past.
English said the success of the group comes from the sacrifices of the members in both time in rehearsals and time as unpaid volunteers.
The group began with about 15 people in 2008, but has since grown to more than 70.
Choir President Colleen Cotherman said it's a relaxed environment, which many people like around the holidays.
“First of all, they're friends,” Cotherman said. “It's so laid-back. There's no roll-taking. If you have to miss, you're still in the Circle of Friends. You're always welcomed back.”
It's also a family affair, too, according to Jen Bowers, vocal director.
Bowers said her daughter, Phoebe, chose to work on the public relations end of Circle of Friends for her senior project. Bowers said Phoebe volunteered time and energy to market the Christmas concert, create promotional videos and work on programs for the choir's audiences.
Bowers said her daughter isn't the only family line involved in the group.
“We've got moms, dads, grandkids, aunts, uncles, cousins,” Bowers said. The group members' ages range from 17 to 89.
“It's just so uplifting,” Cotherman said. “It just moves your heart and spirit to be able to sing or play an instrument, and then when you see it producing for the community … I mean, God's so good to give us the opportunity to serve him through this, and then you see people being so generous. You just want to cry, you're so happy.”
Funds raised in 2018 are benefiting Lutherlyn camperships, the Lawrence County Backpacking Program, the Lighthouse Foundation and Abiding Ministries.
Over the years, Circle of Friends has raised more than $100,000 for local needs.
The choir usually performs six times over the course of two Friday-Sunday stretches in both the spring and in December.
How to join
Circle of Friends has handbell rehearsals from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and vocal rehearsals from 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. Tuesdays at St. Peter's Reformed Church in Zelienople.
The group will meet again Feb. 5. English said all are encouraged to join them.
“It's a little overwhelming when you join, (but) once you get to see the reaction of the people you are singing to and for and the cause, you know you're doing something really good to make the world a better place,” English said. “It's so rewarding for us — genuinely rewarding.”
For more information, visit www.acofchoirs.com or find Circle of Friends on Facebook.