(Photo By JoAnna Little)
“I don’t know if there is any way to describe what Three Circles has done for my child,” says Lori Yonts, foster mother,. The Three Circles Foundation, located in Summerville, Georgia, is a day camp founded with the purpose of educating and empowering disadvantaged boys ages 12-18. At this 23 acre farm, foster and single-parent boys learn trade and social skills that build confidence and character. Jeremy and Jessie Collins started the foundation in 2009 to engage these youth in a monthly camp and community service projects, all aimed to encourage growth in community, environmental, and spiritual awareness.
"This camp is about changing lives,” says Jeremy Collins, who built the foundation from the ground up with his wife, acting on a deep-rooted desire to help the unfortunate children around their rural community. In two years, the foundation has reached out to boys from Walker, Chattooga, Floyd, and Polk counties, teaching hiking, carpentry, mechanics, and other skills while surrounding them with positive role models. “I could tell story after story that I’ve learned about these boys,” says Collins, who has seen visitors come away with skills and knowledge that will benefit them for years to come. “In the end, they all need a little attention and a lot of love.”
Collins hopes to transform the camp into a permanent establishment by purchasing enough land to host a sustainable program. Unfortunately, due to the economic condition of Chattooga County, where Three Circles is located, funding for camp programs and community service projects is limited. The foundation must first meet its operating costs, and save what it can for future improvements.
To help meet this need, a group of Birmingham musicians have come together to present a series of benefit concerts at historic locations across the city. Heading up the series is Stephen Collins, Jeremy’s brother and member of the Alabama folk duo, The Clay States. Stephen has been to the farm himself and has seen how the boys benefit from the experience. “What they learn in one day at TCF could be more meaningful and cultivating than the opportunities they may receive in a month’s time elsewhere.”
When he learned of the financial challenges facing the foundation, Stephen sought the help of his musical contemporaries, including Birmingham’s War Jacket and Neil Couvillion. He then selected venues distinctive of historic, industrial Birmingham such as the Peanut Depot, the oldest business on Morris Avenue. Stephen hopes to combine scenes of the old South with new music in order to raise awareness and funds for Three Circles. “What we need are attendees with the perfect combination of ears for sincere music and hearts for sincere causes.”
Stephen and singer Lauren Little began writing songs as The Clay States in Birmingham before briefly moving to Arizona, where they found inspiration in the desert landscapes and mountains of Flagstaff. They returned to Alabama with a mysterious and eclectic unification of Southern and Western Americana.
Joining the Clay States is Atlanta folk singer/songwriter Lauren-Michael Sellers, whose honey-smooth voice has entertained audiences around the Southeast. Noticeably influenced by the likes of Regina Spektor and Allison Krauss, Sellers has found her niche “where soul meets folk.” She is a member of Birmingham’s Grey Haven community of musicians (along with Stephen and Lauren) and has performed in a number of the city’s popular venues, including Matthew’s Bar & Grill and Bottletree Café.
The Clay States and Sellers will kick off the first show of the benefit series at the Peanut Depot on October 21. The Peanut Depot, located at 2016 Morris Avenue, is one of Birmingham’s oldest operating businesses. The top floor has recently been renovated, now featuring an entertainment venue. The show will begin at 7 p.m. with The Clay States. Between sets, Jeremy Collins will give a presentation about the foundation, followed by Lauren-Michael Sellers.
The second event will be at the Cahaba Pumping Station at 4012 Sicard Hollow Road on November 18, at 7 p.m. The one hundred year old pumphouse-turned-museum was an obvious choice for Stephen, who aimed to fuse the historic character of Birmingham with the new culture of artists performing today. “I can't emphasize enough how these events combine Birmingham's already present aesthetic of industrial spaces with its budding music scene, all working toward the greater good,” he says. “The sounds of New South music resonate with the acoustics of the buildings of the Old South to inspire events that renew our culture.”
The Matchcoats, an acoustic folk and blues duo and new members of the Grey Haven community, will be performing with The Clay States at the Pump Station. Guitarist Gabriel Akins specializes in alternating bass blues, inspired by traditional blues artists such as Mississippi John Hurt. He delivers vocal and guitar melodies, while Sarah Akins provides rhythm and harmony. The duo met Stephen and Lauren at Grey Haven’s monthly show in January, and agreed to play for the Three Circles benefit when the need arose.
The benefit series will announce one more show by December, and resume in 2012. Jeremy Collins is grateful for the help offered by the participating musicians, and is hopeful that The Three Circles Foundation will find the support it needs, “We hope to raise as much as we can through these concerts,” he says. “With the bands that are playing, I think we will all have fun doing it.”
With the funding generated by these events, The Three Circles Foundation will continue to operate on a monthly basis to provide orphaned, single-parent, and at-risk boys with teaching and support that may change their lives. Jeremy and Jessie Collins are reminded by every visitor of Frederick Douglass’ belief that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Find out more about The Three Circles Foundation at threecirclesfoundation.com.