Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

Spotlight On…Hearts And Voices!

6 Apr

I recently volunteered for Lifebeat’s Hearts & Voices program, an on-going live performance series for people living with HIV/AIDS. I watched as the performers entertained a small group of residents at Rivington House in Nolita, turning what would have otherwise been just another night into a musical experience and singalong for everyone present. It gave me goosebumps. After finding out that two of four members of the performing group Solo fell ill, Erika, Manager of the Hearts and Voices program, stepped up to the mic and helped round out the night with a few extra songs. Her willingness to go the extra mile to make residents happy was heartwarming and made me want to learn more about her and Lifebeat immediately. Luckily, Erika was more than willing to share her love for Hearts & Voices with me. Below is the outcome of our recent e-terview*; read on for some inspiration from Erika Banks:

Give & Get NYC: What is your role with Hearts and Voices, and what attracted you to this organization specifically?

Erika Banks: I am the Manager of the Hearts & Voices Program, which means I organize/coordinate all of the facilities, performers & general volunteers to produce over 240 shows each year for people living with HIV/AIDS.  I was drawn to this organization because it combines my two loves: Music & Community Service.  In many ways it’s a dream come true for me to be able to use music to make a profound difference in people’s lives.

G&G: I’ve heard you sing- and you can SING..Do you have a background in music?

EB: Yup!  I have always loved music and started taking violin lessons when I was 5 years old.  I switched to voice and piano lessons when I was 11 years old and currently have a Masters Degree in Music.  Though I’m no longer in a formal vocal training program, I am always learning and growing as a singer.  I perform my own shows outside of Hearts & Voices and collaborate with other performers whenever possible.  The learning never ends and the love of music never dies.

G&G: Why do you think it’s so important to have the H&V program in New York City specifically? Are there plans to expand to other cities?

EB: For well over 15 years, Hearts & Voices has been making a powerful and lasting difference in the lives of our audience members who are living with AIDS.  Live music has been proven to relieve stress, pain, build community and combat loneliness.  Hearts & Voices also provides performers with a way to give back to the community using their natural gifts and abilities.  Performing a Hearts & Voices show has a positive lasting impact for both the performer and the audience.  Everyone wins!

We have also started holding regular Hearts & Voices shows in Washington, D.C., which I’m very excited about.  I hope we will be able to provide this program to many other major cities in the US in the coming years.

G&G: From your experience working with HIV/AIDS patients, how have you seen music affect them and their rehabilitation?

EB: I have continually seen the people that attend our shows, enter the room in a “bad” or “ok” mood and consistently leave the show smiling, laughing, singing and happy.  We have many regular attendees to Hearts & Voices because they enjoy it so much.  This is a great link that shares the audience members experience of the show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdvjf6DLaLE

G&G: Is there any one artist on the H&V list of performers that you absolutely love to hear perform?

EB: I absolutely LOVE all of the H&V performers.  The generosity and heart that comes through in each show is what is truly moving.  When people perform from their heart/soul you can’t help but be moved and uplifted.  This is the main quality I look/listen for when I review Artist Applications and it’s the quality that comes through at each show.  That’s why we can have so many different styles of musician or performer and still cause the same powerful healing effect.

G&G: Do you have a favorite memory or performance?

EB: It may sound corny, but each performance is magical and amazing. I can’t say I have a favorite, but the last show is always the most fresh on my mind.  Just last night after the Hearts & Voices performance at Casa Promesa, an audience member came up and said the song “What a Wonderful World” really touched him deeply cause he’d been dealing with a lot of drama.  I live for these moments when I can see the difference the show makes for someone or they share directly how it uplifts them.

G&G: Are there any upcoming events for Hearts & Voices or Lifebeat in NYC that people can attend and learn more about the program, and maybe see a good show?

EB: People can find out about Lifebeat events on our website www.lifebeat.org and on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/Lifebeat.  We have a number of partnerships and events people can attend or get involved with, and we’re constantly creating more.

G&G: If someone is interested in volunteering, as an artist or just to help out, how can they make that happen?

EB: I encourage interested folks to contact me directly about volunteering at a Hearts & Voices show, either as a performer or a production volunteer.  We hold between 18-20 shows a month, which adds up to about 240 shows a year.  There are lots of opportunities to make a difference and have a good time while you’re doing it!


Erika Banks is the manager of the Hearts and Voices program based in New York City. She can be contacted at ebanks@lifebeat.org. Lifebeat is a nonprofit that uses the power of music and the music industry to help educate young people about HIV/AIDS prevention. For more than seventeen years, Lifebeat has helped to mobilize the talents and resources of the music industry to raise awareness and funds, and to provide support to the HIV-positive community. Learn more about Lifebeat by visiting their website: http://lifebeat.org/

*E-terview is an online interview. I just made that up, but I’m hoping it catches on!

Guest Blogger: McKenzie Mahoney

29 Sep

My good friend McKenzie recently wrote about her experience volunteering at God’s Love We Deliver, an organization you’ve read about before on Give and Get NYC. Her time spent there is more unique, however, because of her culinary background and weekly commitment to working in the God’s Love kitchen. She was awesome enough to let me share her story here…

Why I Chop: A Love Letter to God’s Love We Deliver

By McKenzie Mahoney

I vividly remember the first day I walked into God’s Love We Deliver after a seriously lengthy hiatus; I was apprehensive to entering the doors, nervous and embarrassed that I had not been in so long. My excuses were baseless and kind of ridiculous; after culinary school I got busy, work got in the way, my social life got in the way, etc etc. I kept putting off the inevitable realization that surely I could carve out a set time each week to volunteer right? Yet it wasn’t until I heard about their “World’s Largest Potluck” this past spring that I finally took some action.

With support from friends, I set up a potluck to raise money for GLWD and was surprised to receive correspondence from the office directly asking if there was anything I needed, etc. Thanks to my loving friends, family and neighbors….we raised over $300 for GLWD. It was then that I realized there were no excuses; I had to get back in the kitchen!

For those of you not familiar with Gods Love We Deliver, a quick primer….

It all began with one woman, Ganga Stone, a hospice volunteer who began preparing and delivering meals for Richard Sayles, a patient she met who was living with AIDS and did not have the ability to cook for himself. Rain or shine, she would deliver food to Mr. Sayles, and soon enough a snowball effect took hold as it went from one man to thousands of men, women and children. While GLWD has no religious affiliation, the organization received its name after a minister inquired what Ganga was doing and he replied that she was, “not just delivering food, but delivering God’s love.”

Since 1985 their mission has been clear: improve the health and well-being of men, women and children living with serious illnesses (HIV/AIDS, Cancers) by preparing and delivering nutritious and high quality meals to those who are unable to do so themselves. Understanding the need for more than just nutritious meals, GLWD offers nutrition education, counseling, and many other services. It’s an incredibly impressive operation, GLWD serves nearly one million meals a year, provided free of charge, no matter what your income may be.

Now back to getting in the kitchen…

Not more than five minutes after breezing through the Geffen building (on 6th Ave and Spring Street where GLWD was headquartered), was I back in the fold! Emily (the volunteer coordinator who has quickly become a dear friend) welcomed me with open arms and immediately got me set up with a quick re-introduction, a food safety seminar, and a few waiver forms.

As soon as the elevator doors opened to the basement kitchen and I wrapped the apron around my waist, I recognized how much I really missed this place. The people you meet, the conversations you have while working, the connections you make are literally indescribable. A melting pot of New Yorkers working together to improve the lives of fellow New Yorkers, its inspiring.

I am sure everyone says their crew is best, but I truly feel the people who work Mondays are a special bunch (in addition to those who work on weekend evenings). Most people spend their Monday evenings getting back into the groove from the weekend and prepare for their work week. The people who choose Monday evenings throw out any exhaustion or errands and dive right in! I personally chose Mondays because it allows me to start the week ahead off right with a little dose of giving back!

As stated before, the people really make the place. Some of my favorites on Monday include Gerry, the most loving and supportive man I have ever met, his smile and enthusiasm for life brighten my Monday evenings; Andrew, Monday nights father figure who sat with me at the emergency room for 4 hours as the doctor stitched up my knife wound (an accident I admit was due to carelessness on my part as I may have been talking too much!); and last but not least….Rachel, who recently left us to start her freshman year of college but was my lifeline to what its like to be a teenager nowadays, I am eagerly awaiting her Thanksgiving arrival.

While there are many ways to help (be it driving the vans, delivering meals, packing the meals, labeling items, or answering phones), I choose to work in the kitchen chopping various vegetables for soups, side dishes, and entrees. With Karee (the Chef) at the helm, the Monday night crew rocks out to some old school R&B (or whatever tunes Karee wants to jam out to) and chops away at  boxes and boxes of squash, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, and onions. We chop, laugh and chat oblivious to the ticking of the clock. The old saying is true, time flies when you are having fun because as soon as you walk in…you are on your way out!

I will sing the praises of Gods Love all over this world; it is a magical place where people selflessly donate their time, energy and money to helping others. Every night we hear how many meals are being delivered the next day and the figures always astound me…. 1800, 1600, you get the idea. I get chills thinking about the moment a GLWD volunteer knocks on a person’s door and hands them their meal; it must be such a joyous experience to see first hand the people you are helping. I have been floating the idea of staying in NYC for Christmas (much to my mothers disappointment), and if so will likely spend my Christmas Eve delivering meals around the city.

My love for GLWD knows no end; I look forward to celebrating many life moments downstairs in the kitchen. If you too are looking for ways to get involved in your community and are interested in GLWD, please visit the God’s Love We Deliver website at www.glwd.org, they are always looking for volunteers.


Continue to follow McKenzie’s foodie escapades and good will on her blog,

The MMMguide

Potluck for God’s Love We Deliver – Success!

24 May

Last night a good friend and fellow blogger hosted a potluck party as part of God’s Love We Deliver’s “World’s Largest Potluck”. She cooked up a tasty batch of chili for friends and coworkers who all came out to support the cause. Everyone showed up with something to share: samosas, wine, meatballs, and cupcakes. OH, the cupcakes… This party not only raised money for a cause; it raised everyone’s waist size by at least 1 or 2 sizes.

The night raised almost $200 for GLWD! Thanks to McKenzie for hosting a fabulous evening of food and friends for a great and meaningful cause.

For more information about GLWD, visit their website: http://godslovewedeliver.org/