Joanna Galysh, For The Miami Student

Imagine spending your childhood in foster care and when your 18th birthday comes, having nothing to carry your belongings in except a garbage bag.

This is the reality for many children who grow up in foster care, but Suitcase Full of Blues plans to change that. Four blues groups will convene at Martin Luther King Jr. Park uptown for a benefit concert from 1 to 7 p.m., April 30. This concert, inspired by Jimmy D. Rogers, has no price for admission — except the donation of a new or gently used suitcase or duffel bag.

Rogers came up with the idea while listening to the radio in his car. He said a story came on that discussed how demeaning it is for children to have nothing to carry their belongings in when they leave foster care or are transferred to a new home.

“I have no special connection to foster care, but when I heard the story on the radio, it just sounded like something I could make a difference with,” Rogers said.

Attendees of the concert are strongly encouraged to fill the suitcase with items that foster children could use, such as new or gently used clothing, as well as nonperishable food items.

Brenda Gabbard from the Foster Child Enrichment Council emphasized how large of an impact these donations can have on the lives of foster children. According to Gabbard, there are many things that foster children want but are not able to get because the state can only afford to contribute the minimum amount of money allotted to each child.

Gabbard said it is not unusual for children in foster care to be without prom dresses, senior pictures, purses, contacts or glasses, football uniforms, music lessons or basic things that most children take for granted.

“It’s going to be great to have the concert in the Miami area,” Gabbard said.

She said the foster children love that Oxford kids tend to have more modern clothing for teenagers with brand names like Abercrombie, Aeropostale or Old Navy. Gabbard said the kids also like clothing adorned with the Miami University logo, but they are ecstatic to get any new or gently used clothing.

In efforts to draw people to the concert and increase donations, Rogers’ own band, Bad Men on a Mission, will be headlining the event. Three other blues groups from the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio areas who are friends of Rogers will also be performing.

“It’s hard to get people to do benefits, but you got to give back every now and then,” Rogers said.

In addition to the musical entertainment at Suitcase Full of Blues, there will be clowns, face painting, balloons and a raffle with prizes and gift cards donated by local businesses such as Texas Roadhouse and Wal-Mart. Tickets will be six for $5 or $1 each and all money raised from the raffle will go to the Foster Child Enrichment Council.

Gabbard and Rogers hope for an excellent turnout if the weather cooperates. Local artist Kris Courtney has been credited with increasing awareness about the concert. At Suitcase Full of Blues, Courtney will begin to paint a canvas to be auctioned off that night.

Additionally, Courtney is going to have children at the concert help him finish his painting before it is sold in order to add a “special touch” to the artwork.

Despite high hopes for a large crowd, many Miami students are still unaware of the event. Miami sophomore Megan Winter said she had not heard of the concert.

“I think it’s a great way for Miami students to connect with the community of Oxford while being entertained and having a good time,” Winter said. “I would definitely take my residents to the concert because not only is it effective community engagement, but it would also expose them to a type of art that they probably aren’t familiar with.”

Gabbard wants the Miami University community to know if any organizations or individuals are interested in having a bake sale, selling food or being involved in any way with the Suitcase Full of Blues concert, they should contact her as soon as possible at 513-720-3074. For more information about the event, please contact Gabbard or find Suitcase Full of Blues on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Suitcase-Full-of-Blues/.

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