Fairfield woman hopes to help homeless children
From Engineer to Entertainer, Irena Hart is Helping Others Through Music
Nearly a decade ago, Ukraine-born Irena Hart, a Fairfield resident, made a decision after the birth of her daughter to follow her heart. After that decision, music -- singing and playing guitar -- turned from a hobby to a full-time gig.
She feels more fulfilled than she did as a full-time mechanical engineeer, who holds 10 patents that range from medical science to ecologically friendly photo film.
"I'm making it happen and I want to encourage other people to do what they love," she said. A few years ago, she was put in touch with a young woman who organized a street team to help publicize a concert of hers in Central Park. It turned out the street team was comprised of homeless children who spent their nights sleeping in Central Park and Union Square Park. Ever since then, Hart made a promise to herself that she would work to improve the lives of homeless and at-risk youths through music and the arts. She has since established Harmony4Kidz. Through benefit concerts, the nonprofit organization raises funds to offer scholarships to music and art camps, schools and colleges. Harmony's fourth event, titled "Save The World - One Child at a Time," will take place at the Westport Town Hall Auditorium on Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. The Westport Historical Society is sponsoring the event. Children ages 8 to 18 are encouraged to participate in the event by submitting their ideas on "How to Save the World" by picking up an entry form at the historical society. The deadline for submission is Feb. 5. The top ten submissions will be announced at the event and the ten winners will be invited to appear in an upcoming Harmony4Kidz music video as well as sing with Hart in March on the TV show, "Rabbi Rock," which airs on Soundview.
Hart said she has met many homeless children who are either talented in music or the arts already, or who want to do so many things but don't have the means to pursue their interests. Hart is planning to redesign the Harmony4Kidz Web site so children can sell their art online.
Whether children with artistic skills are on the street or in a foster home, Hart wants to support them and "nurture their creativity." Artist or musician, Harmony4Kids hopes the support provided to the children and young adults will enable them to become successful and powerful leaders of society. Hart is already working with a number of social service organizations to reach out and serve those in need. Ultimately, Hart said, "we want to have kids we've helped help others, it will be a revolving program."
Harmony4Kidz has board meetings once a month at the Westport Public Library and it has arranged for scholarships to the Landmark Forum, the flagship program of Landmark Education. A leader in the field of training and development, Landmark Education offers The Landmark Forum and graduate courses and seminars that are innovative, effective, and immediately relevant, according to its Web site. The Landmark Forum, the foundation of all Landmark Education's programs, is designed to bring about a fundamental shift or transformation in what is possible in people's lives. Landmark Education's courses, Landmark seminars and Landmark programs are offered in more than 120 cities around the world.
In fact, the young woman who helped organize a street team for Hart was the girlfriend of a young man who was taking the same Landmark Education course as Hart.
Many of the children Harmony4Kidz is looking to help just need a little help, a little boost, said Hart. Many of Hart's friends and associates work in the music business, own recording studios or sing and play instruments. A number of them have committed to helping Harmony4Kidz. Some of them will be performing at next week's benefit.
On the bill right now, with more to come, are the Al Ferrante Trio (Ferrante teaches guitar at the Fairfield Guitar Center), Cassandra Kubinsky, Steve Barrett, Larry Shiller, Tony Brochetta, Laura Summer, Face4Radio and special guest Hailey Knox, an 11-year-old singer/guitarist. Robby Bridges from WEBE 108 will serve as host of the event, which also includes a silent auction, prizes and donations by many community businesses, including guitar lessons from Fairfield Guitar Center and Valentine's Day gifts from Arbonne, Sendoutcards and Beautiful Faces. Harmony4Kidz will focus its efforts on children in the tri-state area.
Hart would love for corporations and businesses to join forces with Harmony4Kidz. The more funding that is available, the more that can be done. Hart is working to make a difference within driving distance right now, but eventually she would love to have a Harmony4Kidz center in every state. To do this however, she will need some generous benefactors. One smaller goal is to at least establish a store in Connecticut where children can work, perform, and sell what they created, along with T-shirts, coffee and other things, as well as possibly live in an upstairs apartment. That, she said, might happen, if she can get on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Children planning to come to next week's fund-raiser with entry forms detailing how they would "Save The World" are also encouraged to prepare notes directed to children in Haiti. The notes will be sent overseas with a care package to that country, which endured two earthquakes in an 8-day span.
Hart, who will also be performing at the benefit concert, is appreciative of everyone who is lending their talents and time at no charge.
"In this economy, for people to be so generous, it's a testament that we can make a difference," she said.
For more information, visit westporthistory.org and harmony4kidz.org.
In addition to raising money through music, Hart has released a book of poetry called Bermuda Road (named after Bermuda Road in Westport), sales of which will support Harmony4Kidz. The book will be available at the Westport Historical Society the day of next week's concert. It can also be purchased at http://www2.xlibris.com. The Web site states that Bermuda Road "speaks for those who are homeless but not hopeless" and that Bermuda Road is the street where the author "spent two years during her own `homelessness' experience."
The site added, "Her poetry reflects her soul searching during that difficult time in her own life." Those poems have since become the songs that Hart performs.