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  • Writer's pictureAlex Vogelsong

Shelter from the Storm

A Return To In-Person Programming with Salvation Army's New Day New Home Shelter

BuildaBridge teaching artists have brought their trauma-informed art-making lessons and experiential workshops to a variety of contexts over the years— and I’d imagine most would agree with me when I say that bringing this work to an array of recovery-based shelter facilities has felt the most impactful and memorable.

Now back in the flow of in-person programming since the onset of the pandemic, BuildaBridge has begun a weekly therapeutic arts program in collaboration with a Salvation Army site, New Day New Home (NDNH). "NDNH is a long-term transitional living program that prepares women who have been forced into human trafficking for a new life of independence and self-sufficiency.” BuildaBridge will be working with the shelter up until the new year.

The first session set the stage for the participants to collaborate in the writing of an original song with inspirational lyrics— co-created with the guitar of BuildaBridge Executive Director, Ami Yares, percussive accompaniment from returning teaching artist, Alex Vogelsong, and the facilitation of generating lyrics as a group via new teaching artist, Ryan Pater. What began as a plan made by the three over a Zoom meeting eventually manifested into a poignant and uplifting piece of music.

“Music is power, music is freedom above all,” one participant shared during the session. This same individual stepped into a leadership role while folks were invested in the devising process and suggested structural changes to the song that were then utilized. Somehow, the end result gave me chills— their creation had a powerful impact. It felt just as meaningful as the response they gave, when I asked if they had any musical experience— they said they enjoyed music but had never imagined that they could write a song. That’s the sort of statement that makes my heart swell— as I had very much just witnessed them help write a song. Another participant overcame shyness and shared a beautiful singing voice to help construct the melody. Others felt more interested in the visual art-making portion of the lesson. Part of what I value about working with BuildaBridge is the well-rounded nature of the programming— that we have the ability and resources to bring different mediums to our sessions.

Perhaps no one expected the visual imagery of a salsa-dancing bunny rabbit that the group somehow brainstormed together piece by piece… but I’m sure we can all imagine the possible joy-based metaphors within that humorous image. It didn’t make the final cut of the song, but— just as the song itself did, as well as the creation thereof… It seemed to help lighten the mood and bring laughter to the room. We look forward to future sessions with Salvation Army, excited to witness what other unexpected moments of positive transformation and connection all form together.

Alex Vogelsong (she/they) is a teaching & performing artist based in NW & W Philadelphia. This is her fourth year working with BuildaBridge, during which time she’s primarily focused on improvisation in a theatrical and musical sense as an instructor. Percussion is perhaps her dearest held passion in and out of classrooms.

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