When a senior citizen smiles and wants to get up and dance, Teen Angel Project members know their time and effort has been worthwhile.
When a military veteran get tears in his eyes listening to patriotic songs or a young cancer patient joins in, the young performers feel the success.
The Teen Angel Project, based in Montgomery County, is a group of middle and high school students with training in music and dance and experience in performance. They put on shows for “people who need joy,” according to founder Francesca Winch of Silver Spring.
“I literally had a dream,” Winch said. “[It was] of these kids performing in a hospital. Somebody announced them as Teen Angels.”
Winch said her daughter, Fiona, 18, was taking music and dance lessons for years and performing with other young people in local theater. Winch had a ready-made community on which to draw to make her dream come true.
She shared the idea with other parents in the summer of 2012. That fall, the Teen Angel Project held its first auditions, attracting about 40 members.
This year, the group’s second season, there are 45 members — 29 are in grades 9 to 12; the other 16 are in grades 6 to 9.
“There is some overlap [in the ninth-graders] because some kids need more work than others, with their singing and dancing,” said Theresa Mezebish of Brookeville, a member of the Teen Angel Project board.
Mezebish has two daughters in the group — Sophie, 16, and Anna, 14. Both started dance lessons at a young age and love performing.
“I started dance classes when I was 2 or 3 years old,” Sophie said, “and started performing in third grade at summer camp. I like getting my energy out.”
Sophie said the group lets her combine two of her favorite things.
“It gives us a way to do the things we love: be together with our friends and help the community,” she said.
The group has performed at local assisted living homes, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and The Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health, and for the Make a Wish Foundation and Autism Speaks.
“They were great,” said Taylor Watson, assistant house manager at The Children’s Inn. “It gave the kids an opportunity to take a break from what they are going through. Some of the kids got up from their seats and danced with the group.”
Members come from across the metropolitan area and rehearse every Saturday for three hours at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. They perform a variety of music, including musical theater and popular tunes. They also do a patriotic revue, said artistic director Jason Strunk.
Teen Angel Project members are rehearsing for performances at the Heart Songs Luncheon on Feb. 26.
Heart Songs in an outreach of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation in support of the critical care units at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The group also is preparing for a performance at Homecrest House senior living facility March 19, a showcase fundraiser for Best Buddies on April 5 and their own gala fundraiser May 10.
Open auditions for next year’s season with be held on May 17.
During the patriotic revue at Walter Reed, Tara Shepherd, 17, of Olney realized how much the group’s performance meant to the audience.
“A guy took off his cap and was crying,” she said. “It meant a lot that we were touching someone’s life and you could see that on his face.”
Kayla Chernof, 17, of Potomac knew she was doing a good thing for the community when she talked to a resident of Grace House, a senior living community in Silver Spring.
“After the performance, she smiled and said she wanted to get up with us,” Chernof said. “She didn’t, but it made her feel good.”