I’m an Orlando based musician and songwriter who has lived and toured throughout the Gulf Coast region my entire life. Swampy is my climate of choice, and when asked to describe my sound, I say “Swamp Roots” because it’s my own blend of the music I heard growing up, New Orleans rhythm & blues, soul, gospel, country, zydeco and rock and roll, with a percolating groove that exudes humidity and lush growth.
Five years ago I initiated a community of women friends called the Swamp Sistas, 2,545 at last count. We are a diverse group with varied occupations and backgrounds, but we all have two things in common. We love music and we love helping out. We’re passionate about both and combine them whenever we can.
On a recent Wednesday night, some of us gathered with friends and family for a volunteer session and mini-concert at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. As we sorted through donated items in the warehouse and assembled boxes of food for families in need, we realized that it made us feel like family to be there together, helping, and it felt really good; so good that, when our volunteer time was up, nobody wanted to quit!
Eventually, we moved into the community room for snacks from the Darden Foundation Community Kitchen, and soon the music began as some of the songwriting Sistas offered up some tunes. Right away, a spell was cast over the room and the “feel good factor” was in full effect. Swamp Sista and hip hop artist Lauren ’TKO’ Rohan, spoke frankly to the room before she performed. “You people need to know the importance of what you’re doing tonight,” she said. “It’s a big deal.” She went on to reveal that she had grown up in poverty and had relied on food banks as a child.
Swamp Sista Suzanne Caffery, who came with her husband to volunteer that night, took note. Suzanne is the director of an academy in Bithlo that serves low-income children. She and I have discussed Bithlo’s poverty issues on more than one occasion and how she sees families struggle to get food on the table, daily. Suzanne was taken with TKO’s message and right away invited her to perform for and speak with the students, to give them hope and encouragement. TKO accepted readily. She wanted them to know that their circumstances don’t define who they are, that it’s not their fault they’re poor and that things can get better.
I drove to Bithlo that Friday morning to witness the interaction and it was well
worth the trip. TKO had an impact, the kids were engaged and Suzanne was ecstatic. Another “feel good” moment, for sure.
I also chatted with Jenn Benner who is an instructor for Art Reach Orlando, a non-profit program that works with children in under-served communities. I learned that they are holding an art camp at the academy in Bithlo this summer and guess who is providing hot lunches for the students during the camp?! Just goes to show you, what happens at Second Harvest DOESN’T stay at Second Harvest.
In an effort to help provide more hot lunches like these, the Swamp Sistas and I have launched an online fund drive at www.lalasummerhope.com with proceeds going to Second Harvest’s Summer Hope for Kids Program. We’re offering our music and other items as rewards at various levels of giving and our goal is $10,000 which will provide 40,000 hot meals for kids this summer.
Please join our efforts in fighting hunger at lalasummerhope.com, then join us in celebration at the Swamp Sistas La La @ Fringe, from 3 pm to midnight on Saturday May 21st, in Orlando Loch Haven Park. The female fronted music fest is free to attend and all are invited. We’ll continue to collect donations throughout the day and announce our total at midnight, so yeah, the Swamp Sistas will be doing our thing, enjoying music with friends and family while simultaneously helping out in our community. Think that feels good? It sure does!
Swamp Sistas La La Foundation, Inc.