Trenton, N.J. -- The Trenton Thunder concluded HOPE Week with a heavenly sound, with the Trenton Children's Chorus taking their moment in the spotlight.
The choir was honored for their success in helping children transition into adulthood, but it was director of development Maureen Llort who was honored -- and truly surprised.
"Well, apparently we're being honored," Llort said, surrounded by the children at the entrance of Arm & Hammer Park, minutes before they took the field. "It's wonderful. Just thank you is all I can say. We appreciate the experience and getting the kids down here to the ballpark."
The moment comes 17 years after Llort began her work with the choir. This also marked another moment in their connection with the Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, as the choir has sung the national anthem several times throughout the years.
"They love this," Llort said. "They come from a variety of schools in Trenton and the area, and to get together with their friends and be recognized, it's a very community-building experience."
The choir, which employs a large staff, plus volunteers, has proven its mantra true (Making music, Making friends, Making a difference), according to Llort. She has seen the realization of hard work and devotion to music pay off.
"Every child that has stayed in our program, through high school graduation, has gone on to college, every single one. That's really gratifying," she said.
Two of what Llort called "their best high school girls," Tanisha Burrell and Melissa Simmons, sang before the game and performed God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch. They were directed by Rochelle Ellis.
Before the game, a video presentation showed footage of artistic director Patricia Thel reflecting on her time with the choir, as well as the children talking about their experience and the success they've enjoyed as a result of their involvement. They spoke about the activities and the positive changes in their life through the choir.
It confirms Llort's belief that through music, the kids are gaining valuable life experience. It isn't just about learning music and performing, but it ultimately arms them with values and a sense of direction when they go out into the world.
"Music is a vehicle for the children to learn commitment and have the opportunity to perform, and that's really life-changing for them," said Llort. "They get out and realize that there's beauty inside of them and that they can make people happy and make them smile. They realize they can do something really well, because they've worked hard and they've been committed. It changes the way they view themselves. They see themselves in a very different light. It makes the world bigger for them."