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Community service sounds sweet to Howard students

Even though Monica Patel can no longer play the violin, her love of music helped her win a four-year scholarship to McDaniel College in Westminster.

Patel, who graduated in May from Howard High School, has been involved throughout her high school career with Collision Music, a nonprofit organization that fosters community service through music.

Most members of Collision Music play instruments. Patel played violin for many years, but about four years ago, while jumping on a friend's trampoline, she broke both bones in her right arm. She had surgery to install metal plates, then another operation to take the plates out after her bones healed. Today, the 17-year-old still has pain, and her arm is too weak to play the violin, she says.

Patel remains active in the group, however, and is one of about 10 students involved in planning a concert this Saturday to benefit the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, a Columbia-based resource center providing emergency shelter, counseling and other support.

The benefit concert will be followed by a pizza party Aug. 7 at the Grassroots center, where members of Collision Music will help children living there make instruments from items such as metal cans and rice.

Patel is one of four winners of the inaugural Dorsey Scholarship, which provides a full ride to McDaniel, paying the entire cost of tuition, room and board for all four years. Applicants for the scholarship don't apply, but are instead invited to interview.

Patel first learned of Collision Music when its founder, David Heiliger, visited her orchestra class at Howard High School to talk about the nonprofit organization. Patel joined, as did her best friend, Megan Soffen, a rising senior at Howard High who remains deeply involved with Collision Music.

Playing an instrument is not a requirement to be involved with the organization. For example, Rose Glen, 17, a rising senior at Howard High School, said she joined Collision Music because she enjoys music and being around musical people.

The group meets regularly at Nexus Youth Center in Columbia, which is owned by the Bridgeway Community Church, where Heiliger is the high school director. Heiliger said he started Collision Music about seven years ago as a way to connect young people through music. Then he found that the members of Collision Music also wanted to serve others, so he added a service component. In recent years, Collision Music has held benefit concerts to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti and to support Rebuilding Together Howard County, which provides free home repairs to local low-income families. Collision Music is also led by Cree Menefee and Todd Domer.

On a recent afternoon, five teens, including Patel, sat around a tall table at the youth center, hashing out the logistics of upcoming events. Cathy Smith, who represents Grassroots, was on hand to discuss details of the benefit concert and pizza party.

During the meeting, the group members discussed details such as how to keep people entertained between sets, and how to make sure enough people get the word about the concert.

The alcohol-free event will feature the local acts Jenna Jill, Alex Asifo, Ba'ss and Josh Huff-Edsall, said Patel, and there will be 10 additional slots available for others to sign up and perform. "It's going to be a mash-up of an open-mike night and a benefit concert," she says.

Pizza, water and baked items will be sold, and people will be able to donate money for the pizza party the following week at Grassroots. There will also be raffles, basketball, ping pong and other games.

"They're learning the nuances of what it means to be professional," Smith said. "These kids are great."

For Patel, the combination of music and service has been perfect.

"I've always been a huge fan of music, and I've always loved helping others out as much as I can, so this organization really just combines my two passions," she says. "Volunteering with Collision Music really never felt like work to me, it's always just felt like a bunch of friends and I were hanging out trying to help others."

The benefit concert will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Nexus Youth Center, 9179 Red Branch Road, Columbia, with all proceeds benefiting the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. The cost at the door is $5. For more information:

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