On e of Port Townsend’s biggest benefit concerts — the 12th annual show to benefit Ugandan AIDS orphans — is approaching soon with a collection of talented performers in tow.
One of Port Townsend’s biggest benefit concerts — the 12th annual show to benefit Ugandan AIDS orphans — is approaching soon with a collection of talented performers in tow.
The yearly event brings out hundreds of attendees to hear a wide range of virtuosos selected by organizer Lisa Lanza, and all for a good cause.
The AIDS epidemic’s impact on Sub-Saharan Africa has been devastating, with around 15 million Africans losing parents or guardians to the disease and being forced into begging, prostitution, or other situations in order to survive, with roughly 1 million AIDS orphans in Uganda alone, according to organizers of the benefit. Proceeds from the show support 28 victims of the epidemic who are sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church in Port Townsend.
The concert is set for 4 p.m. Sunday, May 28 at First Presbyterian Church at 1111 Franklin St., Port Townsend. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. and the event is free to attend with a suggested donation of $15 to $20.
The performance is sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church. Masks are recommended but not required.
One of the event’s longtime organizers and founding members is Sharon Dembro, who recounted the history of the event and continued goals of helping those in need.
“This will be our 12th concert; Grace Lutheran has been involved with supporting the AIDS orphans since 2002,” Dembro said.
It all started when Dembro and her partner, Mark Dembro, met Father James Ssemakula in the ’90s at the U.S. Embassy in Sweden.
Ssemakula had been supporting 70 AIDS orphans in central Uganda’s Mpigi District with assistance from the Swedish government and private donations. With the Dembros’ help, Grace Lutheran Church began contributing to the cause.
After Ssemakula’s sudden passing in 2005, the Dembros were at a loss on how to continue helping the Ugandan children and adolescents, until another person stepped in. Kenneth Kasule took the reins, continuing Ssemakula’s role of checking in on them and aiding their scholastic aspirations.
“Kenneth has just been amazing,” Dembro said. “He’s a pseudo father to these kids; they’re his life.”
While the Dembros’ financial support helped greatly, the couple were looking at how to involve the community in giving for a good purpose, and in came Lisa Lanza.
“Twelve years ago, the wonderful Lisa Lanza came up with the idea for a concert that would involve young musicians here in Port Townsend playing for the the youth in Uganda,” Dembro said. “Lisa, of course, is key to this whole thing. Without her, there’d be no concert.”
After a heap of planning, the inaugural performance was set for Memorial Day weekend 12 years ago at Grace Lutheran. The event was a major success, eventually becoming a yearly staple.
“We were delighted with that, and had no idea it would go on on an annual basis,” Dembro said.
“I started working as a pianist at Grace Lutheran, becoming acquainted with the project on educating the orphans, and thought doing a concert would be a great way to raise money for this project,” Lanza recalled. “It just grew from there, realizing we had more student involvement and more students as well.”
The benefit event has continued to grow since, with organizers trading Grace Lutheran for the larger Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship venue, then settling on the even-larger venue of First Presbyterian Church in Uptown.
“The last two years, it’s been at First Presbyterian Church who kindly offered their venue for the concert, and we’ve filled that space and are so grateful for their co-sponsorship,” Dembro said.
WHAT’S IN STORE
This year, Lanza’s music program has a cornucopia of talented artists playing selections from classic Mozart to rhythmic Brazilian Choro.
Featuring in the upcoming event are musician-educators Matthew Daline (violin) and Jennifer Chung (piano), whistling extraordinaire Jason Victor Serinus, returning artist Madelyn Kowalski, and more.
For the choir fans, a combination of the Grace Lutheran Church choir, First Presbyterian Church choir, and singers in the community are set to join for an enticing performance, Lanza said.
SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing much-needed funding for the Ugandan orphans to have a better chance at life, organizers said.
Many of the students in the program led by Kasule have been able to graduate through school, find well-paying careers, and live a fulfilling life.
“For us to be able to count on that support, it’s important to aid these kids who are doing amazing things,” Dembro said. “The first [student] with a doctorate of medicine graduated a couple years ago.”
Kasule has also been able to provide a medical clinic in the students’ hometown, with the building soon-to-be finished.
“He’s built a village medical clinic, and he’s inaugurating it soon and naming it after the people of Grace Lutheran; it’s going to be called the Grace Clinic,” Dembro said.
“This miracle of support for people 7,000 miles away to help from throwaway kids to middle-class citizens and more, as social workers, electricians, teachers, and kids” has been inspiring to see, Dembro said, adding that the kids and young adults “would probably have had to beg or sell themselves to support themselves.”
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