Big band benefit to help feed, house the homeless

MIDDLEBURY / VERGENNES — Leaders of the non-profit Charter House Coalition (CHC) are counting on the sounds of Glenn Miller, Count Basie and other big band legends to inspire donations to feed and shelter the homeless this winter.
The organization will host a Christmas Ball featuring Joe’s Big Band at the Vergennes Opera House this Saturday, Dec. 17, from 7 to 10 p.m. For suggested donations of $20 for adults and $10 for teens, participants can listen and dance to what will surely be a rollicking performance by one of the state’s best big bands, which features an Addison County resident — pianist and singer Annette Franklin of Bridport.
All of the proceeds will help the Charter House Coalition’s community meals program and shelter services for families and individuals. Those shelters are located in the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s Charter House at 27 North Pleasant St. Up to 15 individuals at a time can seek refuge there from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. every overnight until April 15. And accommodations are available for up to four homeless families in a separate area of the building, also until April 15.
Established in 2005, the CHC is a non-profit association of local religious groups and individuals who each year donate hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars to make sure the less fortunate in our midst have access to the basic necessities. The group also organizes free community meals throughout the year and links homeless and low-income residents to state agencies and organizations to receive additional aid.
The CHC’s shelters are in particular need of support this year, noted Doug Sinclair, CHC director. The Congregational Church of Middlebury is consolidating its operations in an addition being built onto its majestic building across the road. So the CHC will be taking greater responsibility for the entire Charter House, rather than simply a portion of it.
“Our expenses for maintaining and operating the building will increase substantially,” Sinclair said. He estimated the CHC will need to raise another $45,000 to $50,000 for the shelter operations, which is supervised by trained volunteers and a few paid staff.
“We now have to make a big jump,” Sinclair said about fundraising.
With that in mind, Charter House Coalition officials are actively soliciting donations and planning fundraisers. So Sinclair was thrilled when Franklin asked him if the CHC would like to have its homeless shelters become this year’s beneficiary of Joe’s Big Band charitable concert.
“You never know where good things are going to come from,” Sinclair said.
Franklin joined Joe’s Big Band around 17 years ago, after seeing the combo’s ad for a keyboardist. A longtime musician, it was nonetheless Franklin’s first experience with a band. It didn’t take her long to become a key member of the group, lending her vocals and keyboard skills to the diverse selection of jazz, swing and big band classics the group delivers at special events, weddings and other appearances.
Founded by the late Joe Levesque during the 1980s, Joe’s Big Band is made up of accomplished musicians from a wide ranges of backgrounds, including teachers, scientists, bankers, farmers, the military and retirees.
“I love it,” Franklin said of the band and her other musical endeavors. She is omnipresent at the Middlebury Union middle and high school spring concerts, lending her expertise and piano talents. This week, she was scheduled to play at the Congregational Church of Middlebury. She is married to the Rev. Tim Franklin, pastor of the Bridport Congregational Church.
Though hailing mostly from Chittenden County, Joe’s Big Band members are quite familiar with Addison County. The band gave annual performances at the Bridport Grange Hall for more than a decade, content to do so for gas money. It was around six years ago that members decided to transition to an annual benefit concert, and Franklin thought the Charter House would be a logical beneficiary. Past causes supported by the band have included juvenile diabetes, international adoption and Young Life of Addison County.
“I feel strongly about supporting the CHC,” Franklin said. “I am amazed at the things they are able to do every day with volunteers.”
Joe’s Big Band is working up a nice song list for the CHC benefit. Franklin expects that list to include such favorites as “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “God Bless the Child,” “In the Mood,” and “Moonlight in Vermont.”
The band will, of course, also take request at the Vergennes gig, which will include plenty of seasonal refreshments, and time for good conversation with friends and family. Champlain Orchards will be offering cider.
For more information about the Charter House Coalition or the show contact Sinclair at [email protected], or at 989-9746.
“There’s no dress code, and you don’t have to be a dancer,” Franklin said of the upcoming concert. “It will definitely be accessible to families.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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