Johansen choir singing for a good cause

Some high school choirs raise money for field trips or sound equipment.

But during the holiday season, Johansen High School -- along with other area schools -- takes a different route.

The students don't keep the money for themselves. They donate it to Soroptimist International, an organization that helps families in need during the holiday season.

The Viking Singers, made up of 11 students, from freshmen to seniors, want to hire themselves out to sing at as many holiday events as they can this month. Money they receive will be used to buy gifts for children who otherwise might not have a very merry Christmas.

The idea came from Philip Smallwood, Johansen's choir director of 13 years. Because his father was a pastor, Smallwood says he has "seen compassion before, and the effects it has on people who don't have nice things, especially during the holidays."

He describes one performance last year, when even audience members wrote checks for the cause. The group raised $1,262 in one night.

This year, the Viking Singers were assigned to raise money and shop for four needy families. Wish lists included items like warm coats and iPods.

It's always fun to shop for gifts, and the highlight of the choir members' experience was last year's trip to Target. Three students accompanied Smallwood to buy holiday gifts for the families.

It was all a bit confusing for the teenage boys. "We had no idea what sizes to get for the girls," said 17-year-old senior Andrew Shiovitz. "We were going around asking customers, 'Do you think this would fit an 8-year-old girl?' "

Shiovitz said the experience was exhilarating and much more meaningful than making a financial donation to a charity.

Smallwood said they bought so many gifts for the families they wouldn't even fit into his car. There still was money left over, which the choir donated to the Soroptomists.

So, what did the students learn about giving during the holiday season?

"I think it's a great cause," 17-year-old senior Jace Jones said, "and it's really touching."

Sixteen-year-old junior Holly Olsson said, "It's crucial for us to do our part, there are a lot of people in need."

The Viking Singers don't just raise money during the holidays. Throughout the year they have "Penny Wars," where choir members compete against one another to see who can bring in the most pennies. Last year, they raised $474 collectively.

It's not too late to book the Viking Singers for your holiday party. Call 345-1491 or e-mail

Emily Shrader is a sophomore at Enochs High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program. To comment, click on the link with this story at