Songs of hope: Musician starts homeless choir

Man starts choir for homeless men
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    Man starts choir for homeless men


Man starts choir for homeless men 01:37

Story highlights

  • Donal Noonan started the Atlanta Homeward Choir, made up of homeless men
  • Noonan's vision: Using his passion for music to show homeless they don't have to be hopeless
  • Marvin Coine, one of the first choir members, was offered a job by someone who saw him performing
  • Noonan says choir gives members "confidence, self-worth, being part of a community again"

(CNN)"Don't be all Mariah" a deep Irish brogue calls out from behind a large piano.

Inside the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta, the 17 members of the Atlanta Homeward Choir have vocal cords that are perhaps a bit too eager to express themselves. So Donal Noonan, the church's music director, has to tell them to temper their tone a bit.
Smiling isn't something the men are accustomed to. The members of this choir are homeless. Many have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
    Noonan founded the group in November 2013 after being moved by what he saw on his morning commute through downtown streets: "These folks were just sitting there waiting for something, and what that was it was almost like they were waiting for a bus, but the bus came and went and they were still on the wall."
    The native of Kilcock, Ireland, thought about how to help, and came to the realization that music was his biggest gift to share. An idea was born. He went inside a night shelter next to his job, to find members for his choir.
    Seven men with limited musical experience stepped forward for the first season. They now have expanded to 17 members, and have performed around the Atlanta area, including at city hall.
    Noonan says the choir gives the men a gift to help get themselves off the streets: "Confidence, self-worth, being part of a community again."
    He adds: "It gives you the power, the empowerment to say: "You know what I'm worth a lot more than what's happening right now."
    Marvin Coine, one of the first choir members, has seen some of that empowerment touch his own life. He was on the streets for two years, having to sleep under bridges before a shelter took him in.
    Coine is very frank about his prospects if he hadn't found the Atlanta Homeward Choir: "I'd still be on the streets, I'd still be walking up and down the street trying to do something."
    He was offered a job by someone that came to see a performance. He now has a steady income and is able to provide for his 14-year-old daughter.
    Audience member Martin McGrail, who calls the choir's music "true art," says seeing Atlanta Homeward makes him want to make a difference against homelessness.
    "We have to say to ourselves that there's got to be a solution that doesn't involve people freezing in the streets in the winter, it's just unacceptable in a modern society," he says.
    Besides concerts, the choir rehearses twice a week. Noonan walks the men back to the shelter after each practice.
    "It really does break my heart that when I say goodbye to these guys in the evenings, that they don't have a home to go to," Noonan says. "I get to go home, but they don't get to go home."
    But amidst the heartbreak, there are also moments to celebrate.
    As rehearsal begins to wind down, a choir member has been given a solo in one of the performances. Noonan changes his tune: Now, he says with a smile, "You can be all Mariah."