Artwork for podcast St. Supéry #GivingTuesday Chats
#GivingTuesday with Voices of our City Choir
Episode 32nd November 2021 • St. Supéry #GivingTuesday Chats • St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
00:00:00 00:25:46

Share Episode

Shownotes

Join St. Supéry CEO Emma Swain for a lively discussion with Steph Johnson, co-founder and choir director of Voices of our City Choir in San Diego, CA. Learn about the origins of the choir, and the goals of building community and dignity through music.

Voices of Our City Choir changes the experience and perception of homelessness, helping San Diego's unsheltered neighbors reconnect with hope and housing through the healing power of music, individualized care, and advocacy.

Learn more: voicesofourcity.org

Donate $500 to Voices of our City and reserve a seat with us at the winery next summer for a beautiful lunch in Napa Valley. More details here: stsupery.com/givingtuesday

Transcripts

Speaker:

Happy Giving Tuesday, everyone!

Speaker:

We're thrilled that you could all join us for the Giving Tuesday sessions

Speaker:

and so excited about our guests that we have with us today.

Speaker:

I know many of you are familiar with St.

Speaker:

Supéry and you know that we love to celebrate joy.

Speaker:

And this season

Speaker:

we think it's so important to celebrate those who are bringing joy to others.

Speaker:

Particularly our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and home

Speaker:

insecurity in their neighborhoods.

Speaker:

And those who are bringing great joy to others.

Speaker:

And so I'm so excited to have Steph Johnson, who's the CEO

Speaker:

and choir director for Voices of Our City Choir.

Speaker:

Steph, you are also amazing.

Speaker:

We have all of these amazing guests.

Speaker:

It's so fantastic.

Speaker:

You're the creative director and co-founder Voices of Our City Choir.

Speaker:

You're a recording artist.

Speaker:

Your TEDx speaker.

Speaker:

You're the 2020 Woman of the Year in California.

Speaker:

Oh my goodness.

Speaker:

Wow. And you're

Speaker:

a walking inspiration and a singing inspiration.

Speaker:

So thank you so much for for joining us.

Speaker:

So can you hear me OK? Yes.

Speaker:

I'm so inspired by the way to be on this call.

Speaker:

I'm sitting here with our case manager.

Speaker:

Our one full time employee, case manager.

Speaker:

Lived experience like me too, and everything you said spoke

Speaker:

to my heart so much and Primo...

Speaker:

What is it called again?

Speaker:

Harmony, Hope & Healing had visited us on the West Coast, and in fact,

Speaker:

I think it was an article by them that inspired me to start the choir.

Speaker:

And I just, you know, I feel so connected to all of you.

Speaker:

I could cry.

Speaker:

Thank you.

Speaker:

Thank you for showing me the future organization growing from that.

Speaker:

The resources you had to what you are now.

Speaker:

Jordan, meeting you is like meeting my soul brother.

Speaker:

I'm just really grateful, Emma,

Speaker:

and to everybody on your team for having this conversation.

Speaker:

So thank you.

Speaker:

Well, we

Speaker:

love having you and tell us how you got started

Speaker:

and what what's going on with Voices of Our City.

Speaker:

We did share a little video at the start for those

Speaker:

who are with us on Zoom, but we will enjoy

Speaker:

hearing the choir at the very end today.

Speaker:

But tell us how you got started. Sure.

Speaker:

So I was born and raised in San Diego and I

Speaker:

was pursuing

Speaker:

music and living, living a creative life.

Speaker:

Five years ago, I took my guitar to the street

Speaker:

and started to make relationships with people living unsheltered.

Speaker:

I knew, just like Jordan, that through conversation

Speaker:

and relationship building that that was so much of what people crave.

Speaker:

That's so much what people crave in life, right?

Speaker:

And I could see,

Speaker:

and started to educate myself, that the way that San Diego was handling

Speaker:

it was by criminalizing people for being homeless, right?

Speaker:

So they're putting people in jail and writing all these obscene tickets.

Speaker:

And I was just so infuriated

Speaker:

and wanted to - I remember I met a gentleman living

Speaker:

in his tent out by where we, you know, I was doing all this outreach

Speaker:

that I started and I said, Let's revolt!

Speaker:

You know, I was so upset for him.

Speaker:

I was like, Let's go take to the streets.

Speaker:

Let's go and make something happen.

Speaker:

And he looked at me and he laughed at me, and he said, it doesn't matter.

Speaker:

We don't have a voice. It doesn't matter what we say.

Speaker:

And I remember that, like, really stuck in my head.

Speaker:

And then the very next day, I met a woman who saw that

Speaker:

I was singing and she said "Google my name, look me up"

Speaker:

And she was singing in a choir, and I believe it was in Chicago.

Speaker:

And it was a choir for people that were experiencing homelessness.

Speaker:

And all of a sudden, like this, this amazing kind of vortex of music

Speaker:

and my purpose and the right things all kind of converging together.

Speaker:

I was like, I had this idea, so I called Nina Deering.

Speaker:

I said, "Do

Speaker:

you want to be the choir director?" A pastor downtown, who was meeting people

Speaker:

and serving the same population, offered us his space.

Speaker:

And so we started to invite people to a choir rehearsal where we sing

Speaker:

soul music and like funk tunes and anyways.

Speaker:

And then it started rolling and it started with a couple of people.

Speaker:

After a couple of months, it was like.

Speaker:

And then it just kept on exploding and growing,

Speaker:

and more people came to join us to support the people that were showing up.

Speaker:

And I started as trying to help one person at a time

Speaker:

where I would fundraise for one person and try to get someone off the street

Speaker:

and do whatever I could.

Speaker:

And now it's a full nonprofit organization.

Speaker:

We're still in our grassroots growing stage.

Speaker:

Of course.

Speaker:

We have four full time employees, many of us with lived experience.

Speaker:

Lots of choir members now that have gone through...

Speaker:

We have a choir, maybe over 200 people that are have come through

Speaker:

and been a part of the choir.

Speaker:

We're just rebuilding after the pandemic,

Speaker:

but we have helped approximately 80 individuals

Speaker:

move off the street and into safe housing and or shelter.

Speaker:

And I am not a case manager.

Speaker:

I know nothing about housing,

Speaker:

except I know a lot about building trust-based relationships.

Speaker:

You know, I know about creating the space for music, making good food...

Speaker:

like Jordan was talking about spaces that are innovative and fun to be in.

Speaker:

I knew how to... I knew I could create that.

Speaker:

And so I just started inviting all my friends living on the street

Speaker:

and our message of...

Speaker:

Our joy of coming together and making music,

Speaker:

our happiness of of each other being heard and seen has

Speaker:

made us

Speaker:

this kind of in-demand performance ensemble

Speaker:

where people want to hear the choir perform and sing.

Speaker:

And it's just incredible that we get these opportunities now to go.

Speaker:

And this was at the Jewish Film Festival we performed at our friend

Speaker:

Michelle in the middle right there in the white.

Speaker:

She made a documentary about one of our choir members

Speaker:

who passed away and wanted to let the world

Speaker:

know what the choir meant to him and the choir family.

Speaker:

A lot of the people that are in the choir are people who have lost family.

Speaker:

They don't have family anyway. They don't have that network.

Speaker:

So we really, really feels like family.

Speaker:

Did I answer the question?

Speaker:

I got so excited meeting you guys. I just jumped off the page there.

Speaker:

Well, you know, it's fine to jump off the page because we love hearing from you

Speaker:

and we love what you're doing with the choir program.

Speaker:

And you know, I think one of the things that I

Speaker:

really like about the choir program is when you bring people

Speaker:

in for choir practice and you're together during the day,

Speaker:

you're also able to help connect them with other services

Speaker:

and other things that can help improve their lives.

Speaker:

Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Absolutely.

Speaker:

So without knowing what we were doing, we became a referral agency,

Speaker:

so we created our own

Speaker:

kind of - I'm old school - All of your list of numbers.

Speaker:

What am I? Rolodex? I'm doing the Rolodex.

Speaker:

So your old school Rolodex?

Speaker:

There wasn't a strong connection of everybody and all the services.

Speaker:

I don't know what it's like in Chicago, but that didn't exist for us here.

Speaker:

So I had to create a database of support and how to navigate that

Speaker:

because of course, people

Speaker:

suffering PTSD and trauma are not going to be able to navigate that.

Speaker:

They really need an advocate.

Speaker:

And so today, we partner and work

Speaker:

with all of the housing programs, shelters,

Speaker:

other resources.

Speaker:

This is Enrique.

Speaker:

Enrique just joined us, and

Speaker:

Enrique is tasked with...We all wear a lot of hats right now,

Speaker:

but his job is to create a plan with an individual, see where they're at

Speaker:

and meet them, where they're at, and see how we can help and support them.

Speaker:

Not ever taking away that

Speaker:

that person's.

Speaker:

Their independence.

Speaker:

Their independence, yeah, their power and being in charge of their life,

Speaker:

you know, it's the music is so uplifting, people feel it when they walk in.

Speaker:

And you know, a lot of choir members that have gone through

Speaker:

and been with us for years and maybe we end up hiring them

Speaker:

or they take on another role or something and they hear me talking about

Speaker:

the rehearsal as being this outreach.

Speaker:

And the choir member goes, "Oh, it's outreach?" And I say, Yeah,

Speaker:

it doesn't even feel...it's not the typical kind of outreach, right?

Speaker:

Everybody's welcome to the choir.

Speaker:

But in that space, when someone's lets their guard down

Speaker:

and they trust us and they feel a space for them to be who they are.

Speaker:

Enrique, who is so wonderful at connecting with people, starts

Speaker:

that kind of conversation and works with people.

Speaker:

So it's great. Well, that is wonderful.

Speaker:

Share with us your biggest hurdles that you have and challenges

Speaker:

that you see for people on the streets who are unsheltered

Speaker:

showers.

Speaker:

Housing, dignity and opportunity.

Speaker:

These are people that are people.

Speaker:

We are all people.

Speaker:

We are all one and the folks that I meet...had professions, had

Speaker:

extreme trauma in their life,

Speaker:

something that happened, it could happen to any of us.

Speaker:

And with opportunity and support, that person

Speaker:

will be thriving.

Speaker:

That person comes back to society.

Speaker:

That person's stoked to be back and have something

Speaker:

that is a piece of them that they can bring to the table.

Speaker:

So biggest challenge is lack of housing.

Speaker:

You could talk about all the hurdles that a person faces once

Speaker:

they get a housing voucher, they have support.

Speaker:

So tell us about the hurdle when you're trying to hustle.

Speaker:

So I mean, first,

Speaker:

you have to get rid of all the barriers that exist, like he might not have an I.D.

Speaker:

Social Security, they haven't existed in society

Speaker:

because of, you know, being homeless.

Speaker:

So we have to take all those barriers down, then you have to find

Speaker:

what kind of income do they have?

Speaker:

And then once you kind of get them prepped for housing,

Speaker:

then you have to face the other side of what it is to house

Speaker:

because you're going to have to go

Speaker:

talk to property managers, they're going to run a credit check, a background check.

Speaker:

And so

Speaker:

a lot of money is invested into

Speaker:

the case management and these programs that house.

Speaker:

When you face the other side, like when you're trying to house (someone)

Speaker:

and there's nobody that really wants to rent to your client,

Speaker:

then you're facing other obstacles because there's

Speaker:

not places that are...

Speaker:

The system doesn't have a place for housing, right?

Speaker:

So that's where the struggle is when when you're really trying to house somebody.

Speaker:

People do get housed, I'm not saying they don't, but

Speaker:

it's it's not designed in a way where

Speaker:

there's like a fluidity When you're like "OK, you got the voucher.

Speaker:

I'm going to get them into this space because it's already contracted

Speaker:

that way." You have to

Speaker:

like, kind of battle through everything to get this person housed.

Speaker:

And then when they're housed, then you have the case manage the client

Speaker:

through that

Speaker:

and make sure that he can sustain himself and be able to live on its own.

Speaker:

So, sometimes it depends what kind of program you have in place.

Speaker:

It could be a 6-month, 24 month, but I was case

Speaker:

managing up to a 24 month period of time.

Speaker:

So once they are stabilized and they can live on their own,

Speaker:

then you're, you know, you kind of step back and enjoy,

Speaker:

the success of

Speaker:

that person being in the home and being sheltered.

Speaker:

And then with the choir and all the music programs we teach piano,

Speaker:

harmonica classes, songwriting.

Speaker:

The song that we performed on America's Got Talent

Speaker:

that got the golden buzzer, which some people saw -

Speaker:

a lot - like millions of people saw, which was very helpful for us.

Speaker:

That was a song written by our choir members in our songwriting workshop.

Speaker:

We also have case management, which we call choir care.

Speaker:

We have a whole nutrition program.

Speaker:

We have a distribution center.

Speaker:

We partner with the church and we're serving 200 people a day.

Speaker:

We would do more if we had more resources.

Speaker:

And when you said "what's the challenge" or what's...I

Speaker:

don't know if there's a question here "what the future looks like for us".

Speaker:

But since we're in the state of California and you know, Emma, you know about the

Speaker:

complications and challenges around housing, we are now having

Speaker:

the meetings and conversations to explore what it would look like

Speaker:

for Voices to become a housing provider and to create our own space.

Speaker:

Much like Jordan described where all the holistic pieces,

Speaker:

people who understand what you're going through and a community environment

Speaker:

- that people are willing and ready and want to come into our...they

Speaker:

would come into our shelter, they would come into our housing.

Speaker:

And so we want to capitalize on that and move with that kind of energy.

Speaker:

Even though we're grassroots and we're five years old, we're ready.

Speaker:

Well, the music you're making is fantastic.

Speaker:

Tell us a little bit about the songwriting workshop

Speaker:

and how you did

Speaker:

create the Sounds of the Sidewalk song that we are going to hear at the very end.

Speaker:

So we're keeping everyone on

Speaker:

till the very end to experience that joy that you're going to bring to us.

Speaker:

But tell us how how that came about.

Speaker:

Well, I'm a songwriter.

Speaker:

Songwriting, playing guitar and singing was so helpful in me

Speaker:

finding a voice and expressing myself.

Speaker:

And so having a songwriting workshop was always really important to me.

Speaker:

My dear friend Francesca Valle, a songwriter

Speaker:

musician, She

Speaker:

took it over and she's been leading it for probably three years.

Speaker:

Every every week before rehearsal,

Speaker:

about 10 to 20 people join.

Speaker:

We have a collaborative.

Speaker:

We have our own publishing company.We publish our own music

Speaker:

so we all come together and co-create.

Speaker:

And that song specifically was about their lived experience.

Speaker:

What are the sounds that you hear when you're being

Speaker:

asked to move in the morning or you're getting a ticket?

Speaker:

Or all the things that you hear and like,

there's one line in there:

"Pennies falling down into a paper cup.

there's one line in there:

Friends I've never known they're trying to look up"

there's one line in there:

"Mothers holding babies trying not to cry.

there's one line in there:

Strangers shouting verses, trying to teach you why"

there's one line in there:

It's like all this noise telling you like you're in the wrong place.

there's one line in there:

You shouldn't be there.

there's one line in there:

You don't know what's up and you're just trying to survive.

there's one line in there:

So I love that. I love the lyrics of that song.

there's one line in there:

So I took took the song

there's one line in there:

and pretty much their melody, and then I kind of harmonized it

there's one line in there:

a little bit and put a little groove behind it.

there's one line in there:

Then we started rehearsing it with the choir and there you go.

there's one line in there:

Then we got our song. That's how we do our songs.

there's one line in there:

Well, that is fantastic.

there's one line in there:

Ronald's asking

there's one line in there:

when the choir is coming to Chicago, and you and I were talking about this idea

there's one line in there:

that we need a grant from Google for a Google Bus or

there's one line in there:

that we need a tour bus.

there's one line in there:

Yes. Yes.

there's one line in there:

I would so love that.

there's one line in there:

In fact, after we kept everybody together during the pandemic

there's one line in there:

and we we got a grant for some laptops, we distributed laptops.

there's one line in there:

We taught people how to use laptops and stay engaged through Zoom meetings

there's one line in there:

and all that.

there's one line in there:

We would send out vocal parts to songs.

there's one line in there:

They'd learn them, they'd come into the studio and in a safe

there's one line in there:

COVID safe environment, record their parts one at a time.

there's one line in there:

I mean, the skills that we had to to learn to get through the pandemic.

there's one line in there:

Now that we're back together singing pre-pandemic.

there's one line in there:

We were always singing very joyfully in unison.

there's one line in there:

And I'm happy to say right now there's lots of harmony going on on stage.

there's one line in there:

So it'd be a wonderful time

there's one line in there:

to take the choir on the road and share this wall of sound.

there's one line in there:

Right? This beautiful...It's beautiful.

there's one line in there:

It's so cool. We want to come. We're coming.

there's one line in there:

I hope we have you up here for Festival Napa Valley (in the) next year or two.

there's one line in there:

It would be fantastic.

there's one line in there:

And you know, one of the other things is, like I've asked

there's one line in there:

previously, how can other people get involved? What

there's one line in there:

can $100, $500, $1,000,

there's one line in there:

$10,000 do for you and your organization?

there's one line in there:

Well, $100 actually

there's one line in there:

affords us quite a bit of time with a case manager

there's one line in there:

working with an individual or two

there's one line in there:

on a plan to get off the street.

there's one line in there:

It definitely goes into all of our programs.

there's one line in there:

I did write down though: $25, gets us five hygiene kits.

there's one line in there:

So 500 is 100 hygiene kits, which we need desperately.

there's one line in there:

We're serving like 200 folks a day.

there's one line in there:

They need shoes.

there's one line in there:

They need all sorts of things just to survive.

there's one line in there:

So those are real, practical things.

there's one line in there:

$1,000 covers our rehearsal space for a month.

there's one line in there:

The insurance involved in us being in there and everything.

there's one line in there:

Of course, we have a big dream for a big bus

there's one line in there:

so we can come to Napa and come to Chicago and.

there's one line in there:

It costs around

there's one line in there:

10,000 a month for us to run our outreach, which

there's one line in there:

we didn't have before the pandemic.

there's one line in there:

And then during the pandemic it became necessary.

there's one line in there:

People need food.

there's one line in there:

I mean, if people go to the trashcans to look for food,

there's one line in there:

or they're looking anywhere, it was gone.

there's one line in there:

It was closed.

there's one line in there:

So we were getting all these reports and calls from people that were like,

there's one line in there:

so hungry.

there's one line in there:

So this outreach that started

there's one line in there:

that also includes a phone charging station for people.

there's one line in there:

Electricity distribution, drinking water, the meals, hygiene kits and coffee.

there's one line in there:

Because what's one thing...who loves coffee?

there's one line in there:

Hello. OK.

there's one line in there:

Right up there with wine.

there's one line in there:

So we provide fresh brewed

there's one line in there:

coffee, cream and sugar, and we provide as many cups as that person wants.

there's one line in there:

And that has been the perfect relationship builder.

there's one line in there:

And it wasn't until last month we figured out

there's one line in there:

how much we were really spending and we were like...oh

there's one line in there:

my gosh, that's a lot of coffee, but it's created this perfect space

there's one line in there:

for dignity, conversation, relationship building.

there's one line in there:

And that isn't something that's provided that often for folks.

there's one line in there:

So now we got a coffee sponsor, but we still got to buy that cream

there's one line in there:

and sugar so it's expensive!

there's one line in there:

Well, you know, you're doing an amazing job

there's one line in there:

we're super excited and we hope

there's one line in there:

that our guests donate to you and we are having the lunch

there's one line in there:

for all three of you on June 10th at the the winery.

there's one line in there:

So we hope that you donate - note St.

there's one line in there:

Supéry for that.

there's one line in there:

With each $500 donation, you can have a guest.

there's one line in there:

And what a perfect holiday gift to your family

there's one line in there:

or friends to say you're coming to Napa, to celebrate

there's one line in there:

all of these wonderful organizations and all they're doing for our friends

there's one line in there:

and neighbors around the country, it's really

there's one line in there:

quite impressive,

there's one line in there:

and we hope that you join us at the winery.

there's one line in there:

You check out our everyday hero exhibit online

there's one line in there:

or at the winery, celebrating people like yourselves who are just out there,

there's one line in there:

who show up, who do good things for other people.

there's one line in there:

Because frankly, if COVID has taught us nothing, it hopefully has taught us

there's one line in there:

to recognize the joy that we have in each other

there's one line in there:

and caring for each other and being good to each other.

there's one line in there:

So I thank you for that

there's one line in there:

and I thank you all for the good work that you do.

there's one line in there:

We're going to kick off the the beautiful choir song next

there's one line in there:

and but until then, be, well, be kind.

there's one line in there:

And cheers to all of you.

there's one line in there:

Thank you.

there's one line in there:

Thank you.

Follow

Links