The inauguration of Wheaton College President Dennis M. Hanno on Oct. 17 bore the theme “Changing Lives, Strengthening Communities.” As part of the new Wheaton Cares initiative, Hanno reminded the Wheaton community to utilize campus resources such as the Office of Service, Spirituality, and Social Responsibility (SSSR) and commit 15 hours or more to community service over the next year.
Campus groups have taken the challenge, in many cases as part of longstanding local service efforts. Voices United to Jam (VUJ), Wheaton’s gospel and R&B a cappella group, has been sharing their music with the Lakeville United Church of Christ in Lakeville, Massachusetts.
Loretta Baldwin, an administrative associate in the Office of the President, is a member of the congregation and made the connection with VUJ in 2009. Baldwin had heard the group sing at a number of campus performances, and had an idea for a collaboration. Emily Tran ’11, former co-president of VUJ, was the student coordinator in the Office of the President at the time and Baldwin extended an invitation to the her and the group to join her congregation for the Sunday morning service, and they have been performing at the Lakeville church ever since.
“They sing in the fall and spring,” Baldwin said. “Sometimes the band accompanies them, but it’s usually just vocalists.”
Nov. 2 was VUJ’s most recent performance in Lakeville, and Baldwin requested that they perform “Baba Yetu”, a Swahili version of the Lord’s Prayer that the group sang with the Wheaton College Chamber Singers at Hanno’s inauguration. Baldwin said it was a hit, and that VUJ “interacts beautifully with our congregation … young people look up to them and look forward to their music … as something they might like to do, too.”
VUJ Music Director Delana Eby ’16 has been with the group for the past three years and agrees that VUJ “love[s] this opportunity to participate in the community surrounding Wheaton.” She also notes that it is a “great place to showcase the gospel aspect of our repertoire.”
Eby reflected on some particularly touching experiences with members of the congregation: “We have gotten to know a few of the regular members of the church well, and enjoy seeing them every time we go, including Bobby, a young boy we have seen grow up, and Ray, a church elder with whom we always sing ‘Down in the River [to Pray]’ during the reception after church.”
VUJ serves as a fine example of Wheaton’s strong commitment to community outreach. These lasting relationships with local communities exemplify the mission of Wheaton Cares.