Serving the Underserved

Under its first full-time executive director, Light Up the Queen Foundation is expanding and inspiring

Opening doors, creating opportunities—those are the goals of Sarah Koon as she takes the reins as the first full-time executive director of Light Up the Queen Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to enrich the lives of Wilmington’s youth.

“We want to inspire them to be part of a community—of being part of something bigger than themselves and to say, ‘I can do this,’” she says.

Hannah Gatewood, 13, can attest to that. Last year, the Cab Calloway School of the Arts student was the first recipient of a Christian Salcedo Music Scholarship—a $1,000 award offered by LUQ.

“I didn’t have money for lessons,” says her mother, Selara. “My daughter’s dream was to play the guitar. The foundation helped her to do that.” Besides a new acoustic guitar and a year of private lessons at the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Gatewood got something just as valuable, her mother says. “It helped her build her confidence on stage and at home.”

This year, about 6,000 students had the opportunity to be part of LUQ arts and music education programs. This month, the Foundation will award the Salcedo scholarship not to one but three students. This is one of several new steps the foundation has taken to increase its focus on the underserved youth it serves. It also has raised thousands of dollars through donations, its sold-out Shine A Light concerts, and other fundraisers to cover scholarships and the year-round programs it offers for free.

Best of Delaware Fundraiser

This year’s concert, Shine A Light on 1969, raised $80,000. In the past eight years, the fundraiser has brought in more than $300,000 to cover LUQ programming and operational costs. In June, Delaware Today magazine named “Shine A Light” as Best Of Delaware in the fundraising category. At the annual concert at the Queen, musicians from throughout Delaware volunteer to perform around a theme—usually a standout year in the history of popular music.

This year, the nonprofit is teaming with Out & About and other businesses to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of Wilmington’s longest-running events—Delaware’s Halloween Loop.  On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Queen will open its doors to the city’s first Halloween Loop Costume Ball.

“This is the first year we are partnering with Out & About for the ball,” says Koon. “The bands are donating their time and talents, so we are grateful to The Caulfields, The Numbers, The Snap and Montana Wildaxe for being our live entertainment for the evening. The Caulfields and The Numbers are reuniting after many years of not playing, so we’re eager to hear them.”

Hannah Gatewood was the first recipient of the Christian Salcedo Music Scholarship. Photo Kevin Francis

LUQ Created in 2010

LUQ was created and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2010 with the purpose of raising funds to restore the abandoned Queen Theater, built in the 1800s, Koon says. “This explains the name of our organization—Light Up The Queen; it’s meant to make you think of turning on the lights inside the theater, which had been dark since the 1950s.”

After the theater reopened in 2011, the Foundation focused on raising money to offer arts and music education programs to underprivileged youth with the purpose of cultivating opportunities and an interest and appreciation for the arts. Housed inside the Queen, the Foundation has made the theater a place of teaching and mentoring, as well as a place where local musicians can gather to give back to the community.

“I think the LUQ musical events have created a wonderful bond within the local musicians’ community,” says Kevin Walsh, a longtime area musician and LUQ’s board vice president. “On a very basic level, there is no better advertising for what we do than to stand in front of a sold-out Queen Theater and just bring it. We all started out as young kids who fell in love with music.  Most of us had the family support to pursue that dream.  It feels good to help young kids who share that dream, but who [otherwise might not ever] get the chance to be heard.” 

This was also the first summer LUQ gave 120 students who would otherwise not be able to afford summer camp the opportunity to attend Tyler’s Camp at Castle Hills Elementary School, in New Castle. At the camp, Koon says, students learned “everything from costuming and set design to stage presence, memorizing songs, dialogue, and choreography and following on-stage directions.” On the last day of camp, students performed an abbreviated version of The Lion King.

New Partners

Besides achieving higher rates of student participation, LUQ’s other accomplishments for 2019 include partnering with several new organizations, such as Summer Collab and the Christina Cultural Arts Center.

In 2020, “Shine A Light on 1980” is happening on Leap Day—Feb. 29, says Koon. “This is a fashion forward event, so attendees can get out their leftover ‘80s gear or hit Goodwill and suit up. We will be selling both general admission tickets and special VIP tickets with all kinds of perks, including balcony access and an open bar. We will be doing all of the top hits of 1980 in this Broadway-quality performance.”

Xtianstock, an annual LUQ music concert that raises money for the Christian Salcedo Music Scholarship, is scheduled for the spring of 2020—date to be announced. It was started in 2016 in memory of local musician and teacher Christian Salcedo. Fellow musicians gather once a year at Butch Zito’s The Farm in Wilmington to volunteer their time and talents for this event.

What other goals are ahead for LUQ in 2020? A potential rebrand of the organization, says Koon. This is under consideration because there tends to be confusion about how LUQ is tied to the Queen now that it has shifted its focus to youth outreach programs.

The theater has three existing branches, explains Koon: Live Nation, which manages nightlife and music venue operations; Special Events, which manages weddings, conferences, parties, fundraisers, etc., and LUQ, which provides accessible arts and music education programs.

When a person buys a ticket for the Halloween Costume Ball, Shine A Light or any other LUQ fundraisers, it goes directly to the foundation’s education programs and has nothing to do with Live Nation concert events or building maintenance, says Koon.

“The rebranding will help people understand who we are and what we are doing,” she says.

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