Standing on a stage specially built by her brother Dan on the altar of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Devon, Irene Jewett looks out on the crowd of country music fans sitting in the church pews. The fans and performers are there to take part in what has become a regular event at St. Anthon’s — a country and gospel benefit concert to help the families affected by family violence. Irene has just received the total of the money raised during the concert. As the crowd waits in anticipation, Irene's smile beams in the light of the church's stained glass windows. This show has raised $4,000 taking the total for the series of concerts over the $33,000 mark (the total to date has climbed to $38,000.)
It was at the 2016 Christmas Show, that Irene announces passing the $30,000 milestone, Fr. Monte Peters drops 30 inflated balloons from the church balcony onto the cheering crowd. It was a special moment for Irene, a culmination of many special moments since Irene has been the organizer and force behind this concert series.
Five years ago, a woman with four young children was leaving her abusive partner and asked Irene for help. "She had nowhere to go," says Irene. "She needed a couple nights in a hotel to get organized. She was desperate."
The plight of this young family really affected Irene. "I would see the face of her five-year-old son when I tried to sleep. I asked Fr. Peters, 'What are we going to do to help this family?' He told me, 'Irene, you'll figure it out. Let me know what you need me to do."'
Irene and the parish were able to raise enough money to help the woman and her kids. The situation made a big impact on Irene. "It felt good to help out this family but I knew that I couldn't keep doing that with individuals. I've had friends who were in bad relationships and used some of the services at Liberty Lane, so I decided to make Liberty Lane the main beneficiary of anything that I decided to organize."
Irene has a long time love of music and performing and she decided to take that love and turn it into a fundraiser for the women and children facing abuse. Since she began organizing the country and gospel concerts five years ago, she has had 91 entertainers from all over the Maritimes and the eastern United States take part.
Her love for her audience is also a factor in organizing the shows. Early in the concert series, the shows started in the evening and finished when it was dark. One night a patron hit a moose driving home from one of the shows. Irene decided that she would move future shows to the afternoon to make sure everyone could get home safely. She also insists on only using local musicians during the winter months to avoid people driving too far in snowy conditions.
"So many people give so generously to make these concerts happen," says Irene. "We have a great group of volunteers and It really is quite something that St. Anthonys lets us use the church like we do. I don't think anything like this has ever been done in a local Catholic church."
Local organizations have recognized the good works Irene has been doing. She has received the Beta SigmaPhi Woman of the Year Award, the Judy Loukes Award from Liberty Lane, and The Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation Award to recognize outstanding contributions toward preventing and eliminating family violence in Canada.
All of the money raised is from "free will offering." The most she has ever received in an individual offering was $200. Irene spoke to the donor after the concert to thank her. The woman had been in an abusive relationship and was motivated to give back now that she could.
Irene has set a goal of $50,000 for the concert series. They are a great deal of work but she loves the music and the audience and has an enormous sense of pride in the concert series and the good works they make possible.
"Everyone gives so generously for this cause," says Irene. "I can't wait to reach our goal. It's going to be fantastic."
Irene stands in front of the awards she has received including the Beta SigmaPhi Woman of the Year Award, the Judy Loukes Award from Liberty Lane, and The Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation Award to recognize outstanding contributions toward preventing and eliminating family violence in Canada.