Acclaimed harp duo plays for Rainbows
Acapacity crowd filled St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Picton on Saturday night to listen to a concert by harpists Janine Dudding and Susan Sweeny Harmon, the duo that comprise Acacia Lyra. The concert was a fundraiser for Reaching for Rainbows, a program for vulnerable girls ages six to nine. The program was started seven years ago by Reverend Lynne Donovan as a way to nurture young girls who had difficulty fitting in to the regular school system. “Our goal is to give these girls the skills they need to be successful,” says Rev. Donovan. “Because of the nature of the program and the low adult-child ratio, there’s lots of opportunity to discover their own strength and not just be pushed through a curriculum.”
The program operates from the basement at St. Andrew’s, and offers after school activities for the girls in two groups, those ages six and seven, and those ages eight and nine. Managing coordinator Judie McLauchlin speaks passionately about the need to keep the program operating. “We are constantly fundraising to keep the program going,” she says. “We do everything possible in order that this program can flourish, because it is so important to the little girls.” The girls come from two local schools, Queen Elizabeth and St. Gregory’s, and are referred to the program by various social organizations, including the Children’s Aid Society and Community Living. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the children attending Queen Elizabeth School come from families that are at risk of poverty or food insecurity. “These are the statistics we are fighting against and these little girls are the ones who are going to inherit them if we don’t stand in the way,” says McLauchlin. “If we don’t do something, if we don’t start with the children, we’re never going to break this chain of statistics that’s holding this community back.”
Saturday’s concert was actually proposed by Dudding after she performed at another fundraising concert for Reaching for Rainbows in October. She suggested the idea to Rev. Donovan, who gratefully accepted. Dudding and Sweeny Harmon have been performing together since 2006, and play more than just harp music. They both play the guitar and Sweeny Harmon plays the tin whistle and Dudding plays the bodhrán. In addition to English and French, they also sing in Gaelic and Spanish. Saturday’s concert comprised a mix of traditional Christmas songs, folk songs in Gaelic and Spanish as well as some of Dudding’s own compositions. The concert also included a guest appearance by fingerstyle guitarist Otto Cepella, who played several solo pieces as well as accompanying the Acacia Lyra duo.
The funds raised from the concert will primarily be used retain two professional staff, who are trained in child psychology and child education. They are assisted by a dedicated group of volunteers, without whom the program could not operate. The program has been very successful in empowering girls to become leaders and role models. One girl, who was uncommunicative during the first three months of the program, is now the leader of a 4-H group; another girl has uncovered a latent talent for art and music that surprised her teachers and even her parents, and there are many other success stories. For more information, visit reachingforrainbows.com.