Centre Sings hopes to identify top vocal talent, raise funds for Interfaith Human Services

Now here’s a fundraiser with a chance to really sing.

To benefit its community assistance programs, Interfaith Human Services will hold a vocal music competition next year.

Contestants in the first Centre Sings contest, open to amateur singers of all ages living in the county, will be judged by panels of professional musicians starting with April preliminary rounds. Twelve finalists will vie for a $500 prize on June 1.

IHS, a nonprofit collaboration among 29 local faith communities in its 45th year, hopes to raise at least $100,000 from the competition.

“It’s a big undertaking for our organization,” Executive Director Ruth Donahue said. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”

Competition Chairwoman Suzanne Wolfe said that planning for Centre Sings began a year ago, after the IHS board sought a major fundraiser in light of growing need around Centre County.

Among its services, IHS provides financial assistance for basic needs, operates the county fuel bank, runs a free furniture and appliance recycling program, provides financial care education and counseling for families, and manages the county rental assistance program.

“We wanted to have something to make Happy Valley happy for everybody, because it’s not for everybody,” Wolfe said.

But, Wolfe said, IHS also wanted a “joyous” fundraiser that promoted local music and singers, “to spotlight talent, whether it’s out of the woodwork or blossoming.”

“They could participate in something that was just plain fun for everyone,” she said.

Judges will select 25 contestants from a cappella preliminary rounds on April 5, April 12 and April 26 to advance to the semifinals on May 9.

The preliminaries will be held in five locations, with a site in each of the county’s school districts. Sites will be posted on Centre Sings’ website on Jan. 2, when the competition will start accepting online applications.

Application forms, available now on the website, will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until the preliminary times are filled or the March 1 deadline passes. Non-refundable fees are $25 for individuals and $35 for groups of up to three people.

Wolfe said that Centre Sings organizers intend to spread the word next year with a promotional campaign involving T-shirts, billboards and other marketing means. They also intend to enlist the help of local school music teachers to attract talented hopefuls, she said.

Already, Wolfe said, local businesses have pledged equipment and technical assistance, such as make-up services for the finale.

“We’ve got some people who are very, very interested in making major donations toward making this event fun,” she said.

Donahue said she thinks Centre Sings, in showcasing “the rich vibrancy of talent” locally, could end up drawing volunteers as well as donations to IHS, enriching the organization as it strives to help a rising number of individuals and families in need.

“Something like this has the potential to fill those voids and keep the community in good shape, I hope,” she said.

Wolfe said the competition plans to finish on a grand note, with a red carpet and spotlights.

“We are going to treat our finalists like the special people they are,” she said. “We just can’t wait to see who they are.”