Teens wow the crowd with rock and soul at AHA! event

 Students perform at Saturday's AHA! event at Deckers Corporate Rotunda in Goleta. HELENA DAY BREESE/NEWS-PRESS

Students perform at Saturday’s AHA! event at Deckers Corporate Rotunda in Goleta.

Parents, friends and donors gathered at the Deckers Goleta headquarters Saturday night for an empowering evening of rock music where teens, some of whom had never sung in front of an audience before, performed hits from classic rhythm and blues to the latest by Katy Perry.

The evening, the 12th annual “Sing It Out!” from AHA!, is the culmination of workshops meant to give confidence to kids who may come from a variety of backgrounds that might include economic hardship, deaths in the family, or suffer from bullying, or just feel crushingly shy.

By the end of 12 weeks in AHA!, the kids step out on stage and sing in front of a large support group: the entire audience. There is no competition and no judgment.

This year the theme was sequins, which meant that the teens dazzled in another way. Some wore sequined jackets, dresses or even leggings.

To show the adults more of what AHA! does and how it encourages communication among youths, the pre-show featured “connection circles” involving the audience.

Forty “peace builders” teens, from Santa Barbara and San Marcos high schools, sat with random circles of guests and shared questions like “How are you feeling today?” or “What fear have you overcome?” or “What fear would you like to overcome?” with every member of the circle providing non-interrupted feedback.

Some 100 students have been practicing these circles over the year, which are a “way of changing school culture by bringing everybody in to share and dialog and really listen to each other,” said Jennifer Freed, who, along with Rendy Freedman, began AHA! in the wake of the Columbine shooting.

“Basically it’s to create a community where everybody sees each other and cares about each other,” she said.

Thirteen teens were on the program last night: Viri Barrera, Jordan Valenzuela, Leonista Caporal, Anjali Ordonez, Kai Swan, Ruby Anderson Flores, Armando Osua Flores, Kris Ehrman, Jewel Shrestha, Josh Hurd, Nina Katnic, Ben Anderson Flores and Cece Valencia. Songs ranged from Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” to David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”

Mayor Helene Schneider warmed up the crowd with her own performance, singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

Ruby Flores, 15, of San Marcos High, joined AHA! to boost her confidence and “to gain emotional intelligence.” She couldn’t seem to hold onto friends and had been through some deaths in the family.

But she sang “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse on Saturday.

“Before I wasn’t very confident, but now I’m able to burst out on stage. Now I feel more safe in this environment,” Ruby said.

Also from San Marcos High, Nina Katnic, 18, is a returning teen for AHA!, though this is her first time for “Sing It Out.”

“When I first joined I was getting over things that had happened in 2008, like losing a house,” she said. “It helped me branch out and meet new friends. I’m not the most open person.”

But you wouldn’t know it from her choice of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” which wowed the crowd.

Santa Barbara High School’s Kai Swan, 14, sang “I Melt with You” by Modern English. Singing was a huge jump for Kai.

“It’s opened me up to relationships in my life and deepened the ones that I have,” she said.

The band that backs all these teens is led by Tina Schlieske of Tina and the B-Side Movement, who has been helping out on the event and the workshops for six years.

“It’s not about hitting the right notes or remembering the lyrics,” Ms. Schlieske said. “It’s about feeling brave enough to express yourself and let go, letting go of all the (negative) voices in their head.”

Connecting with the audience, and the audience connecting back, “is like a tsunami of emotion coming back at you. It’s something that often happens and we can’t wait for it to happen.”

For more on AHA! go to www.ahasb.org.

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