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Sunday, June 5, 2011

First Church Stages Benefit for Youth Service Trip

First Church Stages Benefit for Youth Service Trip:
Folk/pop trio helps support 
Oaxaca feeding program
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/5)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A church communal room, early evening light streaming through large arced windows, the strum of a guitar and the clink of coffee cups. It was a good vibe, and a good cause.

First Church Congregational at 148 Beach Road played host Friday night to a trio of musicians who donated their time to help raise funds for the church’s Senior High Youth Group’s upcoming service trip. On July 2-9, the group will join Southport/Westport-based Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico, to feed and support the needy citizens there. About fifty people attended the benefit concert, enjoying coffee, baked goods and the folk/pop sounds of Fairfielder Brian Dolzani, Southporter Kristen Graves and Norwalk resident Glenn Roth.

“Every year we take a week-long service trip,” said Pastor Jennifer Habetz. “In the past, we’ve been to Biloxi, West Virginia and Denver, to name a few destinations. We’ll join Simply Smiles, which is dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished children. They work exclusively in two places – Oaxaca and on the Cheyenne/Sioux reservation in South Dakota.”

Habetz said they were really excited about the trip. “It’s an opportunity for our kids to go out in to the world and live with and learn from people who live very different lives than we do in Fairfield,” she said. “This is one of many fundraisers we’ve conducted since October. The trip is really central to what we do as a church group and puts our faith in action.”

The junior leader of the Youth Group, Kate Maffei, said the evening’s concert was the last fundraising push for the trip. She added, “This is my third trip but first time leading. I’m excited to experience the whole leadership role and hope to use the skills that I’ve acquired through previous trips to make this one a successful one.”

Simply Smiles has a couple of operating sites in Oaxaca according to Maffei. “They include an orphanage and an inner-jungle site, where we’ll do maintenance and food distribution,” she said. “Work camp is such an incredible experience for anyone to have under their belt. I’m a better person for it.”

Guitarist Dolzani was glad to lend his support. “It’s great that kids can go to other countries and help out in a humanitarian way,” he said. “Kristen and I have collaborated in the past. It’s a good way to be part of a global outreach.”

One of dozens attending the performance, Fairfielder Teresa Boyd, a parishioner, raved about Pastor Habetz and the service team. “Jen is so amazing with this youth group,” she said. “My two kids have gone on work camp trips in the past and they were rewarding experiences.”

Seated nearby, Peter Allen, VP of Simply Smiles, explained more about his group’s mission and expressed his appreciation for its supporters. “We’re dedicated to the children and families we serve,” he said. “An event like this shows us that we have partners. We like to attend and support the fundraisers, as it means so much to us. We need to raise funds, but it’s even more important to foster a relationship with the people helping us do our work, and between those volunteers and the people we serve.”

Allen said he planned to go to Oaxaca, along with musician Kristen Graves. “It’s a cool thing that she’s playing the dual role of performer here tonight and service person,” he said. “Art and charity work well together.”

To boost the fundraising effort, Allen offered for sale samples of Simply Smiles Coffee. “The local Oaxaca farmers depended on coffee export and lost their trade due to globalization,” he said. “We’re trying to recreate a market for them. All of the profits go to help feed the starving farmers and their families there.”

For more information about Simply Smiles, visit

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