The Meaning of Turning Nonprofit
The Bija Children's Choir was a gift I gave myself on my 35th birthday, almost 7 years ago. On October 25, 2007, I had pulled together 10 children who loved to sing, and had our class that day, putting into motion my dream to create a choir organization that would be vibrant and rich with artistry and culture, enhancing the lives of children and those in the community. My studies in West Africa and Brazil inspired me, along with my lifelong passion for world music and my love for working with children.
It was awkward at first, and took some time for the Bija Choir to create an identity and style of its own, which meant attracting students who would stay in the program for more than a semester, but it finally happened. After the first season, we split into two and then three distinct groups: Junior, Prep and Concert, and even an adult group, the Mandala Vocal Ensemble and a women's group, Kindred Voices. We held three major performances a year, often donating some of our proceeds to other charities benefiting children such as The Living Room.
At first, we were operating as a nonprofit project under the Sebastopol Community Center with Kim Caruso at the helm, however as she retired, other changes came about that led me to take a two-season break from the choir, losing that connection. Then since I resumed the Bija Choir last season, I've been operating the choir independently. But differently. I've taken to heart the supposed "insult" that came my way from a businessman who told me to stop running the choir the way I ran my own personal life, which was to put creativity and meaningful experiences first and money later. As an artist at heart, the money-business end of things never came naturally to me, so I've had to learn the importance of financial stability in sustaining a choral arts program. And I have.
At the beginning of this summer, I decided to turn the Bija Children's Choir into a Public Nonprofit Organization. Signing the papers felt kind of like cutting the umbilical cord, since the choir is now its very own entity-- its own "person", as the legal books like to describe it. The Bija Choir is no longer my own little business to operate how I please. There are by-laws and rules and procedures and accountability. And paperwork! But this is a chance for the Bija Children's Choir to achieve immortality, I thought, as long as there are people to carry forward the mission and practices that we now build. How exciting! How scary. But mainly inspiring and motivating on my end to create a structure that can expand and grow, and continue to serve the community long after I am gone. And I will no longer be doing creating this organization alone... perhaps you or someone you know will join me.