Robyn Swanson, Victoria News (Canada)
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
VICTORIA * Island singer-songwriter Allison Crowe was born into a
family who nurtured her passion of music from an early age, exposing
her to a sampling of artists from Nina Simone to Chet Baker.
Today the 23-year-old piano-riding talent continues to bask in the supportive embrace of her family when she's not touring the world to promote her latest CD. But on Thursday and Friday, the Nanaimo-based performer will head to Victoria to sing in support of a group of women whose arduous lives, in ways, are the antithesis of her own happy home life. They have endured poverty, faced sexual exploitation and struggled with drug dependency in the course of their teenage years and are now enrolled in a program aimed at equipping them with the skills to survive and, hopefully, flourish.
The Girls Alternative Program operated by the non-profit Victoria Society for Educational Alternatives, is itself in a battle for survival. Crowe is stepping in to issue a call for help.
"I thought it would be a great thing to do," the singer said from her home. "It's the kind of thing that if you can help out in any way, it's a good idea to do so. Being a woman, I wanted to do what I could to help other women."
Crowe's voice will echo throughout Wood Hall in the Victoria Conservatory of Music at 8 p.m. both nights, to raise money for and heighten awareness of GAP and the young women it serves. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to support the organization's efforts to collect more than $300,000 needed to allow GAP to establish itself as an independent and viable program.
"This is mainly going to make people aware of our program and our challenges to secure the program into the future," GAP executive director Peggy Palmer said. "That is her biggest gift to us, and we are very pleased and excited that she has responded."
The program has been in existence for 32 years in partnership with VSEA, the school district and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. But recent ministry restructuring transferred GAP's funding to the Ministry of Education, to be funneled through the school district, according to Palmer. In the wake of changes, GAP was still able to secure money to operate its Options Day Care program for teenaged mothers, but it lost access to a $120,000 grant for its alternative programs, Palmer said.
Because of differing viewpoints and priorities between the school district and GAP, Palmer and the program's board of directors have watched numbers drop from 40 girls, three teachers and three counsellors to 20 girls, one teacher and 1.5 counsellors. It's a fiscal reality that has prompted Palmer to announce GAP's intentions to break away from the school district and forge a path on its own.
"The issues these girls face are monumental. Their concerns aren't about English and math but where they're living and how they're surviving," she said.
The program provides both academic and emotional support to young women, aged 15 to 19, who face a breadth of issues from eating disorders to crystal methamphetamine addiction to sexual, physical and emotional abuse. They receive one-on-one counselling to work through those barriers and are coached in practical life skills, such as managing their anger, building their self-esteem and locating safe housing.
"Often these girls don't have family who can help them with these things," Palmer said. "We establish a community that is emotionally safe, where people and property are respected."
With GAP's future in jeopardy, Palmer hopes that Crowe's concerts will get the message out that community support is desperately needed.
"We're trying to accomplish the enormous task of securing and establishing the program all over again. Some days it's exciting, and other days I think, 'Oh, dear,'" she said. "We need a number of benefactors to step up and say, 'I'll give you a start.'
"We need to fight for these girls. They need the support, and they deserve a better life."
Carlye Burton, one of GAP's graduates will open each of the concerts with a song. She'll then turn over the stage to Crowe and her piano. Described as the next Alanis or Norah, Crowe said she plans to perform a variety of songs from her three CDs, including her latest, Secrets.
Concert tickets are $15 in advance from Ivy's Book Shop, Munro's Books, Lyle's Place, the Patch and Tanner's Books, and $20 at the door.