American music has always held a close relationship with homelessness. Woody Guthrie spent the bulk of his musical career writing songs, and living amongst the many Dust Bowl wayfarers he encountered. He was in a sense part historian, part advocate, also part homeless.
The Habitat for Humanity Club advocated to help fight hunger and homelessness using that same machine as Guthrie did more than half a century ago — music.
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This concert on Saturday, Nov. 17 capped a week spent focusing on the issues surrounding hunger and homelessness, that ran in conjunction with November’s “National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month.” While other Habitat for Humanity fundraisers use basketball and bingo to draw students in, this night designed the lure around six local bands, many that featured current Keene State College students and alumni. This included groups such as Jake McKelvie & the Countertops and the 123s.
A $3 donation was required to attend the show for the public, and the $10 band donation required for performers. All the proceeds would be funneled back towards helping fund Habitat for Humanity causes.
Christine Pitino, sophomore and the clubs’ fundraising coordinator, said each semester begins with the clubs ten executive board members researching one location with a Habitat for Humanity chapter. This location will be the groups tithing, or their main contribution location for this year Then, at a general assembly meeting, the executive board members will present their findings on the location they researched individually.
Last year, this meant sending close to $700 to Habitat chapters in Vermont to help with Irene, and “We’d like to beat that this year,” Julianne Bentley, a project manager for the Habitat for Humanity club, said. Regardless of whether they are able to surpass this goal, New Orleans will be the main recipient of the Habitat for Humanity’s fundraising efforts for this year. Bentley said Hurricane Isaac was a determining factor in the group choosing New Orleans as its principal donation site.
In addition to the money that is designated to this principal site, Pitino said the club uses funds for community service activities in areas closer to the Keene area.
Bentley said she has worked in conjunction with the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Manchester earlier this year on a build.
The group also plans to focus on improving local sites, such as the Hundred Nights “Cold Weather Shelter & Open Doors Resource” which has contacted the club about performing repairs in their Lamson Street location. Pitino said she believes the Hundred Nights Shelter is plenty serviceable, but there’s always more to do as the club could help out with the small jobs the shelter has no money for. “It’d be nice to help them,” Pitino said. “And especially because it’s so local. It’s not something that you just hear about on the news–it’s a ten-minute walk from campus.” “It’s happening right here,” Bentley added. While the club provides the service of physical labor, much of what the group focuses on is advocating for homelessness.
“We had a speaker from the Hundred Nights Shelter and he said there is a lot of homelessness in Keene that you don’t realize, you have no idea,” Bentley said.
“You can’t tell if someone is homeless walking down the street,” Pitino said.
All this adds to the difficulty of identifying the problem, as there is no single face to homelessness.
Bentley explained of a video the club watched which detailed low-income families in Orange County, Calif. who all crowd into one motel room for living quarters. It was obvious this message rang out at the show. To the left side of the stage the club placed small posters with varying stats regarding hunger and homelessness. One of these posters stated “There is no city in the US where a family making minimum wage can afford a one bedroom apartment.” Despite the clubs effort to advocate for this cause, the turnout to the show proved to be lacking. “So not as big of a turnout as we expected,” Pitino said. Habitat for Humanity member Micaela Chouniard said the small turnout could have resulted from its slot as the last event the club put on during the week. Pitino said changing the date is one thing they could do to draw a larger crowd to the event. The show coincided with the Class of 2013’s Pub Crawl around Keene.
Despite the immediate disappointment, Bentley remained optimistic as the money “does make a difference” as the funds raised will all go towards the goal of surpassing last year’s total.
Jake Williams can be contacted at