Reflecting on 10 Years of 'Big Hearts for Big Kids,' With Musician Tenille Townes

Tenille Townes is a Canadian singer with a huge heart. She recently opened up to us about her incredible journey working with youth shelter The Sunrise House, and how the power of music has helped her raise money to empower kids in need. Read her powerful reflections below. 


Hey, there! My name is Tenille Townes and I'm an artist from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. I love music so very much. I love writing it, I love playing it, and I really love how it brings people together.

Last Saturday, my hometown and I celebrated the 10th anniversary of Big Hearts for Big Kids, a concert fundraiser for our local youth shelter, The Sunrise House. In 10 years, the event has grown far beyond what I could have imagined as a 15-year-old kid. On Saturday, in one night, we raised over $415,000 for The Sunrise House. In the past 10 years, that brings us to a total of over $1.9 million raised, and over 12,000 bed nights of kids checking in to that shelter. Because of the way my hometown has wrapped their arms around The Sunrise House, so many kids have received the guidance and love that they need to keep putting one foot in front of the other towards the rest of their story.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)

This all started 10 years ago, when I found a brochure that talked about the Sunrise House. I was blown away reading how many kinds, my age, in my community, were turning to those shelter beds to sleep in every night. I wanted to do something to help them, and we started planning for an event in our backyard. After the plans started taking shape, we thought it might be better to rent a hall. I had my mom drive me around after school, taking sponsorship packages to local businesses, and it was amazing how many people said yes. The night of our first event, the shelter director came to me in tears and told me that the shelter had to temporarily close due to lack of funding. We moved forward with the event, determined to help them reopen those doors, and that night, we raised $30,000. It has shaped my life watching my community show up year after year since then.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)

Setting up for the event is one of my very favorite parts. We load into the event center on Tuesday and build everything from the ground up. My family and friends are hanging pipe and drape, setting the tables, duct-taping electric chords to the floor and every piece of decor set is done so with so much love. We have such a remarkable group of volunteers who show up year after year to make it happen. They take time off of work to be there, and even their child caretakers donate their time to watch the kids so that the parents can be there to help make it happen. I love getting to witness that and jump in with both feet to be a part of the magic that all comes together at the end. Walking in the room for Saturday's show means so much more when you've been a part of it, starting as an empty space.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)

Music has always been the anchor of this event. We start off with a Songwriter's Round, where people can hear the stories behind the songs, and hear the acoustic, stripped-down version of those songs. This year, we had the honor of having Adam Hambrick, Striking Matches and Gordie Sampson in that round. And later in the evening, it was so much fun to take the stage with my band and play songs to a packed dance floor.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)

Watching the live auction happen this year was pretty wild. There were hands flying up in the air for $30,000 donations, which is as much as we made during our first event. My mind is blown by this community's kindness every year. One of the live auction items was a beautiful mural that was painted live during the event. The generous person who won the painting is donating it back to the Sunrise House to hang in their new building.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)

If anyone out there has a crazy dream or idea of putting something together to benefit a cause that they care about, I'd say do it with all your heart. I still have so much to learn, but I've learned through this event that showing up, and believing in something is really the recipe you need to build a group of people around you who can believe too. Every small action adds up to big change, so don't discount the beginning steps. I know it's a thing people just say, "Dream crazy big dreams," but there's something to that. Watching all that has happened over the past 10 years with Big Hearts For Big Kids, has made me believe that with a lot of heart, hard work and belief, anything is possible.


(Photo credit: Suzanne Sagmeister)