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New Directions Veterans Choir

Award-winning a capella headed to Tacoma

Former homeless veterans will sing doo-wop, soul, gospel and pop Nov. 1 in Tacoma. Courtesy photo

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When you think of a choir, you might not think of a positive force in the world. You might not think of a team of people who have overcome their own obstacles to help others. You might not think of a life-changing outreach program for veterans or others who need help.

But if we're talking about New Directions Veterans Choir, that's exactly what you should think of.

New Directions is an award-winning a capella group made up of vets who have gone through the New Directions program as well as spouses and family members of vets. Members have recovered from and triumphed over mental illness, alcoholism, homelessness and other challenges. The choir comes with a message of help and hope - if they can overcome, so can you.

The choir was founded by George Hill, a veteran who lived for 12 years on the streets during a time when there weren't a lot of services in place for veterans. After admitting that he even needed a helping hand, Hill turned to New Directions.

"I used to sing in these tunnels when I was homeless and when I was in despair," Hill said. "I found that it was a way to heal - at least it healed me. So I used to sing for other guys because it seemed to take their minds off what they were going through. So one day the founder of the program heard me sing and said - hey this should be something good, it helps a lot of people, I want you to have a choir."

The choir started off with volunteers, sometimes whether they could sing or not. Hill has always sought to help others through music. Members sing doo-wop and soul, gospel and pop alike, hoping to reach out not only through their music, but also through their stories.

"We reach out," Hill said. "A lot of times, we tell our stories. We make it a point to reach out. Not only to the veterans, but to the veterans' families to let them know that sometimes you're going to be the one who has to help that veteran. Basically, it's like if we can do it, so can you."

While the choir started off doing performances through word of mouth or locally from its base in Los Angeles, it has gone pro in recent years - largely due to an appearance on the TV show America's Got Talent. While it didn't win, it was given a full eight minutes on national television - a big deal if you ever watch this show, which is often filled with short snippets. Since then, New Directions has toured on a larger scale, including an upcoming stop in Tacoma, and members are thrilled to reach even more people.

The choir always has a meet-and-greet after the show, and members love to talk to people, hear stories, and even offer advice about resources when they can.

"One thing about that area," Hill said of Tacoma, "there's a lot of military, so there are naturally a lot of veterans there. I just want them to know that if they're suffering at all - or if their families see something wrong with a family member - don't feel like there's anything wrong with getting help."

The New Directions Veterans Choir performs Friday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Tacoma's Theatre on the Square. Tickets are $39, military discount with ID. For more information and tickets, call 253.591.5894.

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