As natural disasters have rocked the western hemisphere, many students have wondered: “what can I do to help?” One group of student organization leaders had an answer. In a coordinated effort led by Mecca Baker, President of the Black Student Alliance, and Paula Lam, Associate Director of Finance for University Unions, thirteen on-campus organizations came together to put on the Pitch In fundraising benefit concert on September 30, 2017.
Soon after Hurricane Harvey wrought massive destruction in Texas, Mecca Baker found herself in Paula Lam’s office, watching a video about the victims. Struck by the suffering, she asked Lam if the BSA could do anything to help. As a front-end budgeted organization, the Black Student Alliance is generally prohibited from raising money, but may fundraise in “special cases.” Lam got permission to open up the natural disaster account—which has only been opened twice before, for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina—to allow the students to make a contribution.
Alexus Jones, the President of JMU’s student chapter of the NAACP, shared a little bit about the planning process, recalling that despite only meeting twice a week for a month, “I’ve never seen a collaborative effort like this come together so quickly and so smoothly.” She also lauded the efforts of Misty Newman, a member of VOICE (Vocalists Offering Inspirational Community Enrichment), a community group dedicated to social change through music, who also works at JMU’s Community Service Learning office, saying “she got the rest of the community groups on board […] everybody pitched in a little.” Haiyang “Jeff” Wang, President of the Chinese Student Alliance, echoed the views of many of the student organizers when explaining, “I feel like this is a thing, as JMU students, that we are able to do for [the victims], so here we go, here we are.”
The concert itself was a smashing success. Energy was high all night, the audience whooping and cheering with every high note and explosive movement. A particularly poignant moment came during the performance by VOICE, when they asked the audience to sing along. In addition to singing out the well-known choruses of “Sweet Caroline” and “Seasons of Love,” the audience pulled out their phones to wave along; for a moment, it felt more like a high-powered rock concert than a small-town charity performance.
Incredible vocals from student a cappella groups and local barbershop-style ensembles carried the evening through a variety of musical styles, and impressive dance performances by JMU Bhangra and Mozaic Dance Team had the audience gasping. A final song, “Hallelujah,” pulled together all of the performers (and the audience) into one massive, feel-good sing-along.
Congratulations and appreciation for the opportunity to contribute flew after the concert, with commendations on everything from the impressively rapid organization of the event, to the brilliance of the many modes of donation (they were able to take cash, credit/debit, and Flex). Two students in particular expressed their appreciation for the on-campus opportunity to get involved.
“It’s not something I would have done on my own,” said freshman international affairs major Nady Soe, “but since it’s here, and it’s free, and it’s the right thing to do—why not?” Fellow freshman IA major, Harshini Eavi, summed up the feelings of many attendees, saying “It’s a moral obligation, you know? If you can help, you should.”
That sentiment was echoed many times throughout the evening, from elderly visitors humming along to barbershop classic, to elementary schoolers shyly requesting to be the one to hand over the family’s donation. Fundraising totals proved that attendees were more than just talk, with a final count of around five hundred attendees and four thousand dollars raised. It certainly goes to show that anyone can make a difference, as long as they are willing to pitch in.