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Nonprofit choir benefits children in Kenya

by: SUBMITTED - Children in the Portland-based choir, including kids from both West Linn and Lake Oswego, rehearse for the One World Children's Chorus. They are led by Aaron Nigel Smith on guitar.Though the bright lights of Los Angeles are a beacon of excitement and fame for some, it’s here in Oregon that One World Children’s Chorus has been able to reach its full potential.

“We did more here in a year than we did in three years in Los Angeles. The community has been a partner — I don’t think we’ve previously had a community partner like we do now. There’s just so much support,” said Diedre Smith, who co-founded One World Children’s Chorus (OWCC) with her husband, Aaron Nigel Smith.

Both Lake Oswego and West Linn have proven to be the perfect platforms for the couple, who have dedicated their lives to the arts. Before starting OWCC, the couple founded FUNdamentals of Music and Movement, described on their website as a “fun approach to music and dance education for children.”

Since its founding a decade ago, the Smiths’ FUNdamentals program for children attracted clients such as Sony, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Fox Studios child care centers. With such success, the couple was able to franchise the company, which opened them up to even greater possibilities.

“That enabled us to be able to take the music from the curriculum to go out and do CDs and concerts and some television appearances,” said Aaron Nigel Smith. “The next logical step for us was to find a way to give back to the community through a nonprofit.”

That nonprofit blossomed into OWCC, a children’s choir based in both the United States and Kenya.

“We’re building bridges internationally,” noted Aaron Nigel Smith. “We have children in Portland, Los Angeles and New York as well as Nairobi, Kenya, that collaborated on our first CD. We have over 300 children who work together, and the proceeds go to benefit the Cura Orphanage in Kenya.”

While fundraising CDs aren’t themselves unusual, the collaboration that the Smiths have created between the groups of children, separated by thousands of miles and distinctly different cultures, is something that distinguishes OWCC.

“Being able to serve their own community, they (the children from Kenya) are contributing to their own progress by singing on a CD that raises money for their own community. That’s so empowering,” said Diedre Smith.

A strong belief in the arts and their wide range of benefits firmly grounds OWCC and its philanthropic efforts.

“Music benefits every single child,” said Diedre Smith. “We really like to encourage our schools, families and education systems that music is an essential part of our lives. As we first started talking about the orphanage, the question was why music when there are kids who don’t have shoes. Our answer is that they’re not plants — nurturing children goes beyond survival.”

So far, OWCC’s first collaborative CD is in a pre-release state. Rated number two in Cool Kids Music by People magazine, its official release on Tuesday looked promising in the days leading up to it.

“The next phase is to generate as many sales as we can so we can send significant money back to the children to support their needs in the community,” said Aaron Nigel Smith.

Added Diedre Smith, “It’s an indefinite fundraiser — the CD will be available 20 years from now.”

With an appearance on Aug. 22’s “Good Day Oregon” under their belt, the Smiths are gearing up both for the CD’s official release and the beginning of auditions for their next season.

Auditions will be held Sept. 11 and 12, and aim to be as inclusive as possible.

“So far we haven’t been too big to turn anyone away, and we don’t want to do that because we’re trying to make this open to everyone. The audition process is necessary to make a quality sound,” said Diedre Smith. With both a performing and training choir, the Smiths have been working hard to make room for everyone.

The current season’s recording choir, featured on OWCC’s first CD, has been busy all season long, not only recording their first CD but also performing all across the U.S.

The Portland choir, as well as its counterparts in New York, Los Angeles and Kenya, are gearing up for their biggest event this coming winter — performing live on New Year’s Eve in Legoland.

“We’ll have the Los Angeles chorus there and Portland, New York and Kenya on a live screen,” Aaron Nigel Smith said. While they are still looking for a technology parter to make the live concernt a reality, the Smiths anticipate the coming of the New Year to be a major milestone for OWCC.

“The bigger vision with the technology partner is that we could have live concerts. We hope to expand in the U.S. and internationally until we truly are One World Chorus,” said Aaron Nigel Smith. “To be able to manifest that through a live event is one of our major goals.”

In the coming year, OWCC is aiming to expand its international base to include Jamaica and Haiti. With sponsors such as Julia Roberts, Seven 7 Jeans, Music for Little People and the Volkswagen Group of America backing their effort, the Smiths are optimistic as they talk about their goals for the next season.

“As much as we want to reach 500 or 600 kids, we really just want to reach one child. It’s all about the individual,” Diedre Smith said.

Children at the Cura Orphanage in Kenya aren’t the only individuals benefiting from OWCC’s mission to demonstrate unity through performing arts. In the last year, OWCC has done community outreach here in Oregon through the Children’s Cancer Association.

The song recorded for the Children’s Cancer Association will be supplemented by instruction from Aaron Nigel Smith either in hospitals or during regular rehearsals, which are held at the Mountain Park Recreation Center. A video to accompany the song is in the works, and will feature members of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

As they reflect on the success of the past year and look to the future, the Smiths emphasize the difference their local community in West Linn and Lake Oswego has made.

“I think it’s brought an enormous amount of hope, encouragement and stability to see the community rally behind the concept and the project,” said Aaron Nigel Smith.

For more information on One World Children’s Chorus or to get involved, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

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