Rhoades McKee sponsors concerts that will benefit area's children

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The law firm of Rhoades McKee has supported charities that help children in the Grand Rapids area for many years. And the firm has, since 2008, sponsored the WYCE “Hat Trick” concert series, with proceeds benefiting local charities.

So when the attorney who has been coordinating efforts on that concert series, Dan Bylenga, heard Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and Kent County Board Chair Sandi Frost Parrish call for a focus on improving children’s lives, he thought it would be wonderful to bring the two together.

This year, each of the Spring Hat Trick Concerts will benefit a different children’s charity.

Mayor Heartwell said in his State of the City address, “I am calling on each of you to put children front and center as we continue to build a vibrant and sustainable community. I do so with a sense of urgency that will drive my actions and I trust will drive yours in improving the lives of our children.”

Concerns of the Mayor and County Commission Chair Parrish were prompted in part by statistics which indicate that now almost 37% of children in Grand Rapids live below the poverty line.

The Hat Trick concerts, which take place at One Trick Pony, reflect the wide range of music that local radio station WYCE is known for. The performances feature “national acts, not as well-known as some, but many on the edge of becoming more famous,” according to WYCE General Manager Kevin Murphy. “But this is a hot line-up,” he says of the series which started this past Monday with Davina and the Vagabonds, a band whose retro sound is similar to New Orleans-stride blues but has an almost old-time bluegrass feel
to it.

Rhoades McKee underwrites the cost of the entertainers, and the suggested donation of $10 by concert-goers is all used for the benefit of the designated charity. Murphy says that Rhoades McKee then contributes a similar amount  to the charities as well.

“It’s been great working with Rhoades McKee over the years,” added Murphy. “The series started in 2001, and we approached them when we lost a previous sponsor, because we could see they were a firm with that real kind of commitment to using the arts as a vehicle for doing good in the community.”

Organizations wishing to benefit from the concert series must apply to WYCE, and Murphy adds that he has appreciated Rhoades McKee’s assistance over the years in selecting from the applicants.

Comments Bylenga, “We try and rotate the charitable organizations, all of which are local, so we make the biggest impact we can make over time. Given the mayor’s call to look at what we’re doing for children, this was a natural fit.”

Bylenga, Chair of Rhoades McKee’s Financial Dispute Resolution Practice Group, does commercial litigation and bankruptcies, and has often been recognized as a Super Lawyer over the years. He adds, “I’ve always enjoyed listening to WYCE, and these concerts are a very good program that I think we were very fortunate to get involved with.”

The recipient of Monday’s concert proceeds is Special Olympics, a nearly-50-year-old organization with the mission of providing athletic training and competitions for people with intellectual disabilities. The initiative’s stirring slogan is, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The next concert will be March 19, focusing on West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, which has benefited from Rhoades McKee in the past. The organization’s web site states, “The idea behind WMCAT is to create a mutually respectful culture between instructors and students… a culture that treats people with dignity and respect and affirms their sense of self-worth… that offers opportunity to urban youth and a fresh start to adults.”

At that concert, Paul Cebar will bring his mix of coffeehouse folk and deeply-researched rhythmic experimentation to the audience.

Two weeks later, April 2, AJ Croce will perform to benefit Grand Rapids Community College’s Upward Bound.

Rolling Stone called Croce “one of our greatest young songwriters.” He says of himself, “My music has always been eclectic. I've been inspired along the way by all kinds of music and the folks that perform and compose it.”

About the WYCE concert opportunity, Croce adds, “I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't want their work to benefit others.”

Grand Rapids Community College participates in Upward Bound as do many community colleges, with the intent to offer programs that support low-income and potential first-generation college students in attending and succeeding at post-secondary education. The GRCC program serves eighth grade students who will attend either Grand Rapids Creston or Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills high schools. The emphasis is on academic achievement and offering skills that will help the students achieve academic success.

Mayor George Heartwell, along with his wife Susan who is also committed to improving children’s lives, will attend the April 2 concert.

About the series, the mayor says, “The Hat Trick series has become a staple in the local music scene and the Rhoades McKee firm has established itself as a great corporate citizen of Grand Rapids.  It is natural for the two to come together!

“I am grateful for Rhoades McKee's commitment to the children of our community through their sponsorship of Hat Trick.  The kids of Grand Rapids are better off as a result.”
On April 16, Jim Avett, a country-tinged guitarist and singer/songwriter whose sons learned about the good life in music from him and went on to form the Avett Brothers, will give a concert to benefit In the Image’s S.H.O.E.S. Program.

In the Image’s mission is to “link gently used clothing, housewares, furniture and appliances with families in need in a manner that enhances dignity, embraces choice, and encourages participation and builds a community of diversity.” The Shoes Help Our Elementary Students program purchases shoes for thousands of at-risk elementary school students — 8,500 in 2010 alone.

Caroline Herring’s April 30 concert,  featuring her “traditional sounds [combined] with striking, original observations into modern life and love,” will feature Kids First at St. John’s Home/DA Blodgett, another long-time beneficiary of Rhoades McKee’s largesse.

Kids First offers mentoring, residential care, emergency shelter, therapy services, and assistance with adoption and foster care, operating out of the merged facility when St. John’s Home and DA Blodgett Home for Children, both started in the 1880s, came together in late 2009. Attorney Patrick Geary of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge is the board president, and  Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss is the Director of Residential Services.

The final concert, on May 15, will benefit the Comprehensive Therapy Center, which serves special needs children with motor and occupational therapies, speech-language pathology solutions, and sensory integration, including an award-winning summer program called Therapy and Fun which helps more than 300 children annually.

The featured artists May 15 are Tommy Womack and Lisa Oliver Gray performing songs that “spans multiple genres: folk, rock, country, alt-country, and indie music.”

A multiple-time Hat Trick performer, Peter Mulvey, praises the series, and says, “Not every town has a radio station that’s as good as WYCE and a venue as cooperative as One Trick Pony — it just doesn’t happen everywhere. Patron saint Ralston Bowles always shows up and he tends to get the audience to be even more fired up.”

Since its inception in 2001, the series has raised more than $75,000 for local charities.