Music Festival Brings Joy to Austin SSLC

December 13, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many unexpected and difficult challenges for residents and staff at the HHS state supported living centers, including not being able to hold the much-anticipated National Follow Your Dreams Music Festival competition in 2020 in San Marcos.

This year, SSLCs had the option of holding their own events to celebrate the festival. However, due to COVID-19-related restrictions, many SSLCs were unable to bring their residents together to practice. So they either canceled, postponed or prerecorded their performances.

Austin SSLC was able to practice in enough time to participate. With Chaplain Paul Kraus leading a few staff members, an extraordinary group of volunteers, and a 19-person resident choir putting on group and solo performances, the SSLC contributed to the 44th annual music festival in early November.

People gathered in Austin SSLC’s beautiful, architectural A-frame chapel to watch the event in person. The event was also livestreamed so more residents in campus cottages and families across the state could watch.

The performers included Sumner, who has been a resident at Austin SSLC for about three years and a member of the choir for the past year. He sang the Backstreet Boys’ hit “I Want It That Way” while wearing a leather jacket.

Holding the microphone in one hand, Sumner gave it his all, closing his eyes now and then and smiling as the crowd clapped along. When the applause swelled at the end of the song, Sumner flashed a thumbs-up to his fellow choir members who listened in support.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Sumner’s mother, Pam. She was able to visit the campus for the music festival and said it meant a lot to her that her son was able to participate. Sumner, a longtime music fan who loves classic rock, didn’t hesitate to pick out his song himself, Pam said.

The music festival has value far beyond just a few days of fun. The residents learn musical and leadership skills and more, said Volunteer Choir Director Elizabeth Gibson.

“Empathy, courage and responsibility are deeply ingrained,” she said, noting that participants learn that their actions affect the people around them. “Through choir, residents, staff, families and the greater community share the joys of working and growing together,” Gibson said. “They are sharing meaning as they mark our precious time together and experience delight and belonging in community.”

A highlight of the day included Kraus singing some of the residents’ favorite songs, including “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, as multicolored light poured through the chapel’s large stained-glass windows and onto the choir.