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Salvation Army's Middle Ground program participants

Lee Hancock, director of the Salvation Army's Middle Ground program, center, stands with teachers and volunteers involved in the educational program who aim to raise funds May 11 with a benefit event titled "Spring Sonatas." They are, from left, Elizabeth Lawrence, Jill Bunge, Madyson Versteeg and Tana Patterson.

The Salvation Army’s Middle Ground program celebrates kids and community. Now, it’s time for the community to celebrate the great work the nonprofit organization does preparing students for the world.

Fittingly, the “Spring Sonatas” fundraiser set for May 11 at the First Congregational Church will feature the talents of the teachers in Middle Ground and the Billy Booth Fine Arts Factory. Billings potter Tana Patterson is crafting her one-of-a-kind pottery for place settings that guests may keep, and Lee Hancock, director of Middle Ground and pianist for the Billings Symphony Orchestra, will perform sonatas by Beethoven and Liszt.

More than 300 students have been involved in Middle Ground, which is headquartered at the Salvation Army Corps Community Center, 2100 Sixth Ave. N. It is free and open to students ages 2 to 18. Some instructors are paid and others volunteer to teach students about everything from how to churn butter to how to make pots, plant seeds and play the piano.

This is the first year for this type of fundraiser, combining a light supper with a performance. Tickets are $26 for adults and $15 for children. Proceeds will go back into the program.

Hancock said he will perform Beethoven’s first sonata, which he described as the most challenging piece on the program.

“It is very fiery,” Hancock said.

Next up is “Noctuelles (Night Moths)" by Ravel, followed by the 30-minute Liszt sonata.

“Franz Liszt is the first true superstar of concert pianists,” Hancock said. “He was known for writing the most challenging piano music, but it’s very accessible, transcendent music.”

Other teachers in the program, which includes gardening and textiles, will be on hand to discuss what students are learning in the after-school program. The new homesteading class has been popular with kids because so many families have lost the skills to do things themselves.

“In the homesteading class, the kids learn quilting and how to churn butter and make cheese. The kids love that,” said AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Madyson Versteeg.

Under Versteeg and head gardener Jill Bunge, students plant seeds and are preparing a community garden plot on North 17th Street. Students learn to use organic methods for gardening.

“We have planted just about every vegetable under the sun,” Bunge said.

In June, some of the vegetables will be ready to sell at RiverStone Health’s farmers' market, which will help South Side residents get fresh, affordable food.

The lessons taught in Middle Ground go far beyond the classroom. That was evident last Saturday when students and staff hosted an open house at the Salvation Army, showing off hand-built pots planted with basil and chimes made from silverware and scrap metal. They served bread with butter they hand-churned and performed works they learned to play on violin and piano. Plants they nurtured with help feed hungry people in Billings and the skills they develop can be passed on to their own children.




Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.