AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austinite is recruiting musicians to play a 10-hour concert with her to raise money for an organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids in the foster care system.
Eunice Lee started learning piano when she was 7 and hasn’t stopped learning since. Now a rising sophomore and piano performance and economics major at Northwestern University, Lee is back in town for the summer, but she’s not taking a break.
“We have classical pianists, violinists, we also have some bands, we’ll have singers of all different genres,” she said.
The Meridiem Music Marathon, as she’s calling it, will happen on July 14 at H Mart in the Lakeline area. Lee has 17 musicians lined up to fill between three and four hours so far, she said. “I’m very positive with our very supportive community that we can get the 10 hours filled.”
She hopes to raise at least $1,200, which will help fund the efforts of the group Together We Rise, a California-based nonprofit that provides kids in foster care with bikes and other gifts, as well as trips to Disneyland to reunite with siblings they’ve been separated from.
Together We Rise plans to open its second nationwide office in Austin at the beginning of next year. From the new location on Shady Lane in east Austin, volunteers will also build bikes and skateboards for Texas foster children.
Disney Days, the reunion events for separated siblings, are specifically for kids in California’s foster system, but the organization is working to expand the program to include other amusement parks like Six Flags, a spokesperson said.
Foster care advocates say sibling separations are too common in the system. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in its resource guide for substitute care, advocates keeping siblings in the same home when possible.
“DFPS should first consider placement options where siblings can remain together, recognizing that sibling connections are vital for the well-being of a child,” the guide states. “If siblings are initially placed separately, it is critical to reunite them as soon as possible.”
In the last fiscal year, Texas placed 7,145 sibling groups into substitute care, DFPS numbers show. Close to 2/3 of them were placed in homes together, but nearly 36 percent of the groups were split up.
The rate in Travis County is better than the state as a whole, with nearly 71 percent of sibling groups placed together in substitute care. The rates in Hays and Williamson counties are both above 73 percent.
The needs for children in the foster care system go beyond reuniting with siblings. The money Lee is raising will support Together We Rise programs like their Sweet Cases: duffel bags filled with teddy bears, hygiene kits and other essentials.
“It’s just very inspiring to see all these people so passionate about a single cause and everyone to be working toward that same goal,” Lee said.
Her former piano teacher, Shearon Horton, will be playing in the marathon, too. She’s impressed more with her student than the group she’s supporting.
“She has incredible vision and she’s incredibly forward-thinking,” Horton said.
Even in high school, Lee was thinking about others. She started a program called Music Eunited in her school and others around Austin. “That was a program that I created to help underprivileged children still have exposure to music,” she said.
The idea was to get teachers and musicians to offer free lessons to kids who might not get them otherwise. A music marathon to support children is the logical next step.
“Throughout my life, I’ve always seen music as a very unifying force,” she said.