Iowa youth drum up interest in homelessness

Iowa youth drum up interest in homelessness

June 30, 2003
Written by Staff Reports

"Sheltered Reality," an Iowa youth drum group, performs in Minneapolis' Loring Park. Randy Varcho photo.

48-member drum group serves up driving beat behind energetic mix of music, volunteerism and education

Six years ago, Steve Schlosser dreamed of a way to drum up interest in the issue of homelessness. At this year's General Synod, UCC young people from across the country were dancing to the rhythm of his justice-seeking dreamcome- true.

Schlosser, a member of Zion UCC in Burlington, Iowa, is a drum instructor who founded "Sheltered Reality,Ó a 48-member drumming group whose members range in age from 8 to 18. With love in their hearts and a bounce in their steps, they travel the country pounding out a message of compassion for persons who live on our nation's streets. Through a unique mix of music, volunteerism and education, the group draws on meter and movement to spread the cadence of Christ. More than half are members of Iowa Conference UCC congregations.

The group uses familiar taped music as a backdrop for their playful percussive performances. Some of their original numbers include lyrics, but the real message surrounds the group's interest in drawing youth into concern for others.

The young musicians do volunteer work for agencies that serve the poor and homeless, but moreover, they use their music as a way to invite other young people to become advocates for the poor.

"We can change this world if we just take the chance to do it!Ó Schlosser says during a youth-spirited Gropicnic concert on Saturday, July 12, in sunny Loring Park. The homeless can teach us about faith, Schlosser says, because "these people have lost everything, and when you've lost everything, God finally becomes everything.Ó

The rhythmic beat is alluring. The audience starts clapping, then dancing. Before long, someone starts an impromptu conga line. The celebration reminds Synod delegates and visitors that God can speak with drum rolls as well as a still small voice. Appropriately, homeless people drawn to the park are invited to share in the lunch and the fun.

Between numbers, Schlosser uses the break for a moment of education. "Did you know that the average homeless person in Minneapolis is 6 1/2 years old? Did you know that street people are here because of lost jobs, abuse, illness?Ó he says. "Homeless people have histories and stories just like you.Ó

With only a dream and a downbeat, Schlosser underwrote the band's early expenses with his personal credit card. Today, the group is nearly selfsupporting thanks to donations and the sale of CDs and T-shirts. Parents provide transportation and support services, and some of the adults even join in the drumming. Last year, the group pounded their drums for more than 18,000 appreciative listeners.

Alice H. Foltz, a member of Wellspring UCC in Centreville, Va., assists her husband, the Rev. Jerry Foltz, with the publication of "Newspirit," the Central Atlantic Conference edition of United Church News.

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