By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO

Singing Sensations has been invited to South Africa this summer.

Offered a chance to perform during Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday celebration, the Baltimore choir group aims to tour in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

The Singing Sensations program is now in its 14th year. Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey, who runs the program, started the project while still an intern as a music teacher at Furman L. Templeton Elementary.

Singing Sensations (Courtesy Photo)

“I realized that there were so many children there that had talent, but nothing was being done with the talent,” Hood-Mincey told the AFRO. “And so, I got to start a youth choir there, picking the kids out of their neighborhoods so that they can see opportunities and meet other people. And it just shows them that Baltimore wasn’t the only place.”

Hood-Mincey, of Randallstown, now teaches elementary school music at Winchester’s Alexander Hamilton and Lexington’s Mary Ann Winterling during the week. Saturdays, for three hours, she rehearses with some of Baltimore’s most disadvantaged and at-risk youth.

Rikki, one such student, born with several defects, wasn’t expected to live, but pulled through and is going into ninth grade.

“She is amazing, she has a wonderful voice, she’s not afraid of anything,” Hood-Mincey said. “I think she’s my biggest ‘wow.’”

Rikki has been in the program since she was in kindergarten, but she’s not the only one up against such trying circumstances.

“What’s very unique about my program is that I have several kids who have severe ADHD, I have a young man that is autistic,” Hood-Mincey said. “Usually, programs shy away from these kids. I have them, I’ve watched them grow, become confident.”

The program continues to expand. Instruction now covers dancing, singing, sight reading, bucket drumming, miming and signing.

“The choir’s grown and the program has grown, not only for singing, but we’ve also had tutoring and a person that did counseling with the children, because of the conditions and place that they come from,” Hood-Mincey said.

Kids come from farther and farther away. The class now includes students from Howard, Cecil, and Carroll counties.

Zariah Cruse has travelled the farthest, coming all the way from Sumter, South Carolina.

Singing Sensations subsists on donations. Donors give from as far away as Flushing, Ohio and Savannah, Georgia. Many churches contribute including Douglas Memorial Community Church, Union Baptist Church, Gospel Tabernacle, Genesis Fellowship Church, and FCF Outreach Church.

In a city awash in colleges and conservatories, Morgan State University remains the only public institution cooperating with Singing Sensation.

“We have a partnership with Morgan State University,” Hood-Mincey said. “Last year, they gave me three open scholarships for any kids on my choir who qualify for entry. Seven of my kids participate in the Morgan State University choir, which also gives them scholarships because they participate.”

Many alumni of the program have returned as instructors.

Singing Sensations needs $100,000 to pay for the trip to South Africa.

“We didn’t raise it, but we’re still raising it,” Hood-Mincey said. “Money comes in sporadically, but Classical Movements, the touring company, they are really working with us, so we appreciate that.”

Hood-Mincey and her Singing Sensations hope to add another continent to their list of places visited: Australia.

But between that and the immediate concern of the trip, Singing Sensations needs reliable transportation and a performance space of their own. A 15-passenger van might help Hood-Mincey avoid using her smaller, personal vehicle when going house to house picking up students.

“We try to get more kids involved, try to find the funding for it to keep the kids in the choir, because I have professionals who work with the kids.” Hood-Mincey said. “We’ve been to Canada, Utah, the Mormon Tabernacle, we go up and down the east coast every spring break. That’s the highlight of being in the choir, actually travelling outside of their neighborhoods.”

Singing Sensations is a 501c3 nonprofit, donations can be sent to PO Box 533 Randallstown, Maryland 21133.