Believe You Can: NFB's Keystone Chapter draws talent from as far away as Nashville and Vancouver - Generocity Philly

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Nov. 9, 2021 3:45 pm

Believe You Can: NFB’s Keystone Chapter draws talent from as far away as Nashville and Vancouver

"We know that blind people have the capacity to transform our dreams into reality. and this show is mainly about inspiration," said Harriet Go, president of the Keystone Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

L to r: Simon Bonenfant; Jan Lattuca; Jasmine Elland.

(Courtesy photos)

Last year, when the Keystone Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Philadelphia began planning its first virtual talent show and fundraiser, one of the first things that needed to be decided was a name.

There were clever suggestions that attempted to incorporate blindness and talent, like Visions of Talent or Talent Beyond Vision.

But it was chapter president Harriet Go’s suggestion of Believe You Can that stuck. This past October, the chapter held its second annual show/fundraiser which also intentionally coincided with Blindness, Equality and Achievement Month and White Cane Awareness Day.

Fourteen artists were featured this year, representing a wide variety of demographics, and forms of talent. Some did cover performances while a few other performed original works. Genres included rock, folk, R&B, and contemporary Christian. And for comic relief, Mike Karsok of the at-large Massachusetts chapter did a standup routine that took him to the finalist round.

Many performers were from the Pennsylvania area, but Atlanta, Vancouver Washington and Nashville, Tennessee were also in the house — or rather on the screen. Winners were determined by audience votes.

Taking first place was Jasmine Eiland of Vancouver, who at 13 is the show’s youngest performer. The win came with a $150 cash prize. Jasmine, a singer songwriter, and musician (playing more than five instruments) covered Wake Up by Julie and the Phantoms. Although Jasmine has competed before, the Believe You Can show was her highest placement. But she’s not stopping there. Jasmine is currently auditioning for America’s Got Talent and plans to audition for The Voice next year.

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For Jasmine, music is a deeply personal experience. On a recent podcast hosted by Keystone member David Goldstein, she described the inspiration behind self-learning a new song or instrument. “When I hear a song, I have to feel and embrace the lyrics,” she said.

And she has already given thought to a musical career. “I would really like to go professional with my music and songwriting. I would like to be one of those artists that is well known by a select few people, but not overly popular. I [want my music to] stand the test of time,” she said.

Jan Lattuca, 72, won second place for her rendition of Prelude in C Minor, by Chopin. The win came with a $100 cash prize. As a classically trained pianist, it is not surprising that Lattuca also took first place in last year’s show. But for her, it is about more than just performing.

“Winning the affirmation of many in the voting audience was something I’ll never forget; but It was also a truly fun way to raise funds for the chapter,” she said.

Simon Bonenfant, 19, also of the Keystone Chapter placed third, winning a $50 cash prize. Bonenfant, who began singing and playing the piano at 4, performed You Should Be Here by Cole Swindell in remembrance of a friend who recently passed away.

For Bonenfant, music is somewhat of a ministry. “I want my music to inspire people. I hope it will bring them closer to God,” he said.

The success of last year’s show helped Keystone increase the prize monies offered for this year. And the chapter surpassed its 2020 fundraising by 20%. But that was only part of its mission, which brings us back to the name of the show.

“In the NFB, we know that blind people have the capacity to transform our dreams into reality,” Go said, “and this show is mainly about inspiration. Despite blindness, and whether a veteran or novice, we want our performers to believe in themselves as they reach for their goals.”

The chapter hopes attendees were equally inspired.

More than half of the performers were new to Believe You Can including Go, who this year, traded in her host’s hat and joined the virtual stage. Although a very new violinist, (less than a year), seeing the great talent from last year boosted her confidence. “I thought, If others can do it, I can too,” she recalled.

The show also welcomed its first DeafBlind artist, Alice Eaddy of the Pennsylvania Association of DeafBlind performed an a cappella piece by Demi Lovato. This was Eaddy’s first time on the NFB “stage” and she said the chapter helped make the event seamless. She found it helpful that the  team directly involved her communication facilitator and the mandatory sound checks before the show provided helpful feedback.

Now a signature fundraiser and awareness event, Believe You Can is already scheduled for Saturday October 15, 2022.

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For the White Canes Connect Episode on the 2021 Believe You Can Virtual Talent Show, go to: https://www.icantcu.com/white-canes-connect-episode-05/

To hear the full interview with Jasmine on the iCantCU podcast, go to: https://www.icantcu.com/believe-you-can-talent-show-winner-jasmine-eiland/

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