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Vitamin L project celebrates 25th anniversary

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The audience waited anxiously for the next song to start. A small girl stepped out from the crowd of teens with a microphone in hand. As the beat began, she smiled confidently. Jewell Payne, a senior at Ithaca High School, was made fun of because of her curly hair and short stature during elementary and middle school.

Payne said that no one stood up for her when was bullied, but by singing about bystander behavior she is able to encourage students to not let others be treated disrespectfully.

Step Up, Speak Out!” was one of many songs performed at Vitamin L’s hour long 25th Birthday Concert Celebration on Saturday at the Hangar Theatre. About fifty people were in attendance.

Founded by husband-wife team Jan and Janice Nigro in 1989, the Vitamin L project has grown from a small music-based character education to a nationally-recognized touring group that spreads awareness about bystander intervention, human rights and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Twenty-five years and over a thousand concerts later, the non-profit keeps growing through parent donations and funding from Cornell University’s Center of Transformative Action. Saturday’s concert was sponsored by Wegmans, Audrey Edelman Realty USA, Purity Ice Cream, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, Moosewood, Cayuga Family Medicine, Ithaca Guitar Works and Ithaca Child.

“We didn’t know if it would last for a week…We did our first recording and it was so well received and we won that award [Parent’s Choice Gold Award] — that kind of opened doors for us,” Jan Nigro said. “Then we got some good reviews and it just snowballed. It’s been fascinating to watch this thing grow out of very little.”

One of the original members of Vitamin L, Lester Frost, went to the concert to see his 14-year-old Bryanna perform. Even though there is new generation of “Vitamins,” Frost says the group hasn’t changed too much since he was in it.

“It’s gotten much bigger. The messages are more powerful since it has been going on for twenty five years,” Frost said. “It shows a lot of love to everybody and shows that people are the same no matter what.”

Some of the music may have been written years ago, but the message still applies to today. Janice Nigro mentioned that there has been a rise in bullying and threats against women, in cases such as the Steubenville, Ohio and the recent images stolen from Jennifer Lawrence and other actors, and that Vitamin L is trying to rally people to take action when something bad is happening.

Vitamin L’s message has spreads mostly in elementary and middle school classrooms. Beverly Schmidt, former-teacher and current member of the board of directors for the project, used the music to help her students build strong character traits, such as accepting diversity, respect, and kindness towards others.

“The kids like it. It has a message they can relate to and they like to sing along, especially in the schools. You can see the enthusiasm the group has and it works its’ way in the audience too,” Schmidt said.

The choir not only sings about respecting others, they live it as well. Janice Nigro says she tries to make the rehearsal environment a safe space where the kids can be themselves and away from negativity they face everyday.

“When the kids are new each year, I normally just sit them down and I say “Look, there’s so much negativity in the world and there are so many put downs,” she said. “When you’re in rehearsal, we want to make it a no put down zone and a space where everyone can feel safe and supported.”

Payne says the group allows her to be unique and inspire others, through music, to stand up for each other’s rights.

“Vitamin L is definitely a place where you can go be yourself. The kids aren’t going to judge you, they’re there to have fun with you,” Payne said. “All of the people involved are there because they enjoy doing it. Everyone is really encouraged to be themselves.”

The Vitamin L Project is currently running a crowd funding campaign to raise $25,000 to create more music videos to spread awareness worldwide. So far, they have raised over $3,000 for the cause.

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