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Choir of refugee children coming to Orillia for benefit concert

Unique Feb. 24 event will feature Orillia Vocal Ensemble, Nai Children's Choir and Orillia Music Centre singers


The Orillia Vocal Ensemble (OVE) and Nai Children’s Choir (Nai) will present a special concert featuring a variety of Syrian and Canadian patriotic music with guest performers from the Orillia Music Centre.

A fundraiser for the YMCA Skid Watson Fund, the concert will be held on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. in St. Paul’s Centre Great Hall, 62 Peter St. N., Orillia.

Admission is a free-will donation.

The OVE, a well-known local community choir founded by choral director Roy Menagh, has a special relationship with Nai, a choir for refugee children based in Toronto. The relationship dates back to the time when the whole nation was mobilized to welcome more than 50,000 refugees from Syria.

In September 2016, YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia generously agreed to provide choristers and families of this newly-formed choir with free room and board for a weekend at its picturesque resort on Lake Couchiching.

The retreat could also provide an important opportunity to start preparing the Choir for upcoming performances – however, no teachers were able to go to Orillia. Fei Tang, Founder and General Manager of Nai, reached out to Menagh.

At the time, many OVE members were already involved in welcoming Syrian newcomers into their community, and some had personally sponsored Syrian families. They responded to Nai’s request enthusiastically.

Over the years, YMCA Geneva Park has continued to subsidize Nai Choir’s overnight retreats, while OVE lends their support in different ways.

As Nai has grown and become more stabilized, a key goal is to give back to those that have paid it forward. Nai proposed the idea of a collaborative concert to OVE to help raise funds for the local YMCA.

The idea was warmly embraced, and the YMCA Skid Watson Fund that assists children, single parents and adults with membership and program costs was designated the beneficiary.

More than 100 young singers led by Gayle Wells from the Orillia Music Centre, have also been invited to perform at this special concert.

“We are excited about providing the kinds of opportunities to other children that Nai Choir benefitted from when they first came to Canada,” says Tang. “Having been deprived of childhood fun and opportunities in the Syrian war, our choristers and their families are aware of the significant impact a peaceful and caring community can have on a child.

"We could not be happier to give back to such a community by participating in this special charity concert with our old friends.”