New Beginnings – Supporting Our Voices
Sing for Life has been operating the New Beginnings choir for women serving sentences at Edmonton Institution for Women (the federal prison for women) since 2006. Over the past two years, we have made plans to expand this program to provide a sister choir for women after their release. To signal its connection with the prison choir, the new choir would be called New Beginnings – Supporting Our Voices. The core of the group will be women who are part of a parolees’ support program in downtown Edmonton run by the Mustard Seed reintegration chaplaincy. Sing for Life has an established connection with this group and has received enthusiastic support for the idea from the women in this group as well as the chaplains who run it. The choir membership will be supplemented by any other women who may wish to attend. Choral leadership will be provided by a professional conductor and accompanist, with singing leadership provided by women drawn from local community choirs.
As the name suggests, the choir program gives both a singing voice and an advocacy voice to women who are working on re-establishing connections and resuming life in the community after a period of incarceration. It achieves this through the powerful shared experience of singing together as well as through the creation of a peer community, the members of which can provide support to each other beyond the choir.
To make it happen, we need to develop a range of professional quality promotional materials that can be distributed to prospective members of the expanded choir. These materials would also be used to connect with chaplains, social workers, parole officers and others who are in a position to recommend the choir to women they are in contact with.
These materials will also help us to connect with organizations and individuals who may be able to provide us with food for the food support element of the choir program and low or no-cost spaces for rehearsals and related social activities that are critical to the operation and success of the choir.
The funding will allow Sing for Life to establish this new choir and to seek ongoing support for it during the first year of operation.
Who Will it Benefit?
The choir will benefit women living in halfway houses and those living in the community on parole by giving them a supportive community of peers as well as professional music instruction and personal guidance that is informed by almost 15 years of working with the women in Edmonton Institution for Women.
It can also be expected to benefit other women who join the choir and who are living in vulnerable circumstances, such as those who are socially isolated, struggling with housing and food security, or dealing with mental health issues.
Others who will benefit are the community chaplains, parole officers, and other social services personnel working with program participants. They can expect to see the program helping the participants adjust to living in the community faster and with fewer challenges than non-participants because of the social and mental health benefits connected with being part of a choir.