June 17--When Grey Paluszynski was in high school in Jacksonville, before she became a nationally known singer on NBC's "The Voice" in 2013, she went to Jamaica on a mission trip.
"I saw how much people were struggling and how much work goes in to getting people help. I was very young but I remember thinking how amazing something so small could improve someone's quality of life," she said. "It takes a lot of will power, resources and man hours to help people that are in this kind of serious need. We all need to help in whatever way we can, big or small."
That's why she will headline "Rhythm that Rescues," a benefit concert Friday for the Okoa Refuge in Uganda. Also scheduled to perform is the local band Be Easy.
The refuge -- okoa means to take away from the fire in Swahili -- was founded by Jacksonville residents Tyler Workman and his wife Liv to rescue orphaned and abused children but also provides other services. Paluszynski first heard about Okoa when she was part of a youth group at Beach United Methodist Church, which along with its offshoot, The Church of Eleven22, launched the Workmans on their mission to start Okoa.
"I went online and read about all the great work they're doing and the issues that they are addressing in Africa," she said. "I was very inspired. The stories are heartbreaking, yes, but they are changing things. This organization needs our help to continue what they're doing."
Having hometown support, Tyler Workman said, "is amazing." Before moving to Uganda in 2012, he was a general contractor in Jacksonville and his wife was a registered nurse at the Mayo Clinic. But he had visited Botswana as a teen and she lived in West Africa as a child and both felt a calling to return to Africa.
"It's incredible to know that the people who have known my family for years are some of the strongest supporters of Okoa. We love that local companies and businesses ... are standing behind us and supporting what we are doing," he said. "We left everything behind in America ... Making sacrifices is never easy, but it was all done as our response to the sacrifice that Jesus made for us."
In addition to caring for 74 orphans, the refuge has opened seven Bible schools, built a community center and launched a community development program. Okoa also has developed a piggery project, where pigs are bred and sold and the money used to help promote self-sustainability, and plans to plant 15 acres of free-trade coffee in August 2014, according to Workman.
The refuge also has purchased a building for a new project called the House of Joy Clinic, a planned crisis pregnancy center for women.
The clinic will focus on unmarried, teen girls who don't have the means to care for themselves or their babies. They will live there during their pregnancies and six weeks beyond and be trained in either tailoring or craft making to be able to generate an income after leaving the refuge.
Proceeds from the concert will go to the clinic, which will also be open to the community for medical treatments.
"Lack of access to real medical care is a huge problem in Uganda. People are seeking 'treatment' from untrained professionals and witch doctors and the effects of that are devastating to the population." Workman said. "Countless women every day are aborting and abandoning their children in trash heaps, latrines and swamps because they are too ashamed of being pregnant outside of marriage. The clinic will provide a safe place for them."
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109
IF YOU GO
"Rhythm that Rescues" will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Murray Hill Theater, 932 Edgewood Ave. S., Jacksonville. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 at okoarefuge.org or murrayhilltheater.com through Thursday and at the door.
To donate, visit, intern or get more information, go to okoarefuge.org. The refuge also has a thrift store at 314 S. Dixie Highway in St. Augustine. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday. To volunteer or have donations picked up, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (904) 993-6612. For more information about the store, go to http://bit.ly/1ngBftg.
WHAT'S NEW WITH GREY
"Since 'The Voice' I've been living in Boston, gigging [performing] here and there but I really wanted to focus on songwriting. It's something that I'm new at but I'm so into it! It's opened up a whole other side to me and my voice that I didn't know was there. Getting to be on that show was the best experience of my life and when it ended, I had so many things I wanted to do next. It really inspired me to keep going! I'm working on an EP [extended-play recording] right now and hopefully releasing some new music soon. I'm moving back to Los Angeles at the end of August. I made so many great connections, and life long friends out there that it was such an easy decision. I can't wait!"
(c)2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at www.jacksonville.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services