A Southern California jazz musician trying to help those experiencing homelessness wound up getting a two for one deal. Not only has she helped change lives, she found some new talent.
For Annie Hernandez and John Brady, joy comes through song. They're part of a group that wasn't experiencing much of it until they got connected and started singing.
"It sounds drastic and dramatic, but it literally changed my life. I was like done," Hernandez said.
Similarly, Brady says he "was probably so cold on the inside" that he couldn’t cry for years.
The two were among those experiencing homelessness in San Diego – until they met Steph Johnson. Johnson is a soul and jazz musician who started tackling the problem and came upon a lot of talent. The result was the Voices of Our City Choir, which was founded in 2016.
"This is an opportunity for people to actually see this joy that people have tapped into," said Johnson, the president of Voices of Our City Choir.
Hernandez says the choir has given her purpose and makes her feel like she's a part of something bigger.
"I have a reason to wake up," she said.
"It [singing] definitely puts you back in tune with the human condition," Brady said.
But it’s not just the singing. Johnson and her team are music directors, social workers and case managers, connecting their fellow singers with medical treatment, jobs and housing. More than 20 people are now off the streets, trying to change attitudes about those who are still there.
Brady says he did not have empathy and is quite frankly embarrassed at his attitude toward people who are homeless because "the struggles on the streets are nightmarish."
The San Diego choir performed in Santa Monica recently, voices with a message that joy can be found by not giving up on those around you.
"You can’t solve it, but you can help the people who want help."