‘Minor Characters,” big role

By Sophia Coleman

Some bands have dreams of making it big, getting rich and living lavish lifestyles. Other bands, however, are using their talents to help their community.

Such is the case with local band Minor Characters, a retro-pop quartet who will be headlining the April 14 “Bright Lights for Bright Kids IV” benefit for Chicago HOPES, a nonprofit organization that provides tutoring and enrichment programing to children in homeless shelters, at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave.

“Chicago HOPES is a great organization,” said guitarist Shelby Pollard, 24. “It is really important to reach out and help the community. Because of the economic climate, there are people in the shelters that you wouldn’t think would be in there. There’s kids that are brilliant whose parents fell on hard times.”

Two other bands, Debello and Dead Sheriff, will perform at the benefit, which includes a dinner with the purchase of a $35 VIP ticket.  Donors can meet the musicians, receive a gift from Chicago HOPES and participate in a raffle.

Luis Valadez, program director of Chicago HOPES, said this year’s benefit is particularly crucial because the organization lost its AmeriCorps VISTAS funding due to budget cuts. Despite its losses, Valadez said HOPES is working on becoming independent from Chicago Public Schools.  HOPES started as an  initiative of another program at CPS called Students in Temporary Living Conditions.  Becoming an independent program would allow HOPES to receive its own grants and funding and they would also be able to reach out to a larger spectrum of students.

As of now,  Valadez said HOPES has very few regular volunteers and has cut down its services from 12 shelters to three.

“We are providing educational support for kids who are in homeless shelters because it’s a time in their lives where there is a lot of uncertainty and instability,” Valadez said. “Our goal is to try to defray, or even negate, the effect their living situation can have on their education.”

He said last year’s benefit brought in approximately $3,000, the largest amount raised so far. The goal is to double that number this year and create awareness of volunteer opportunities at the organization. Valadez said if enough money is raised, Chicago HOPES could restore its nine programs and have the flexibility to provide holistic services to kids.

Pollard performed as a solo artist at last year’s benefit, which inspired him to come back this year with Minor Characters, especially because two of the band members participated in various forms of volunteer work during their time as

Columbia students.

Lead vocalist and Columbia alumnus Andrew Pelletier, 26, was vice president of the now defunct group Reach Out, a student organization founded in 2007 that raised money to have an “alternative Spring Break” in New Orleans to help repair the city after Hurricane Katrina.

“I met so many people and made so many professional connections,” Pelletier said. “It was the most life-changing thing that has happened to me during my adult years.”

The band formed in 2010 and also includes drummer and Columbia alumnus James Ratke, 27, and bassist Adam Schneider, 26. Pelletier said they knew early on they wanted to do more than just sing and write music about societal issues. Because they have backgrounds in volunteer work, including Schneider, who had experience in nonprofit administration, it seemed natural to continue and expand their services through their love of performing music.

“It’s easy to get lost in the fact that you’re a band and you’re playing shows in Chicago,” Pelletier said. “Then you realize that you have a job to do as a musician and artist, and that is to help the community. It goes beyond music.”

Catch Minor Characters during the “Bright Lights for Bright Kids” benefit April 14 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $8 in advance, $12 at the door and $35 for VIP. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m., and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. For more information on the benefit or the band, visit ChicagoHopes.org  and MinorCharactersMusic.com.