At 6:59 p.m. on Saturday night, Mark Gomez, 15, paced nervously back and forth backstage in the Reber Center Auditorium at Lyons Township High School's North Campus.
Roughly 15 minutes before the first act was supposed to go onstage for the, he was wrangling crew members, organizing performers and making sure everything was on track for the show to begin. A few minutes later, Gomez joined his fellow concert organizers and the stage crew behind the curtain for a group huddle and a moment of reflection. The group broke with a clap and the signal was given that it was time for the first performers to head out on stage.
Gomez has been busy the last few weeks of his summer vacation, organizing, Joy: a concert to honor the memory of his friend Kelli Joy O'Laughlin and to raise money for the memorial fund set up in her name. In only a few weeks, Gomez and a group of friends worked with school officials to use the Reber Center Auditorium, held auditions to select performers and put together a concert that he nervously wished would turn out as well as they hoped.
"[Kelli] really loved music—all styles—it was one of her favorite things in the world," Gomez said in between rushing around the auditorium. "We wanted to do this to express her love of music and the love she gave to people around her."
Gomez was a close friend of O'Laughlin, who was tragically killed when she returned home from school in October last year and interrupted a burglary.
Gomez said that starting school this year would be difficult for him and his fellow sophomore class. They haven't moved on and they never will, he said. Instead, they decided in early July to focus their energy on creating a public event that would once again draw the school's community together and offer a way to reflect on his friend's life and the joy she brought to others.
"We didn't want there to be sad songs," Gomez said of the process of selecting the night's set list. "We wanted them to be uplifting and to spread that feeling. We wanted to be able to express how we felt about her."
Backstage, organizer Jessica Klimes agreed. She said that Mark had brought the group together with a specific mission in mind. They had all rallied around the idea, divided up responsibilities and worked to make it a reality.
"Everyone found something they could do to help," Klimes said. "We held regular meetings and worked together to share the work."
The show featured 19 performances by students who attended LT last year, ranging from incoming sophomores to those who graduated last spring. The show was well run, with only a few technical difficulties that were quickly fixed by a dedicated backstage crew. On display was the amazing talent of the student body, which featured a mix of cover material and original works. The performers delivered a show that underscored their passion for the night.
On Sunday evening, a more relaxed sounding Gomez said he couldn't have hoped for a better turnout, or for the event to have gone more smoothly.
"We really didn't know how it would turn out," Gomez said. "I think it went really well."
Gomez estimated between 200 and 300 tickets were sold at the event, and with the additional sales of t-shirts, wristbands and raffle tickets, the group has already raised $4,098 for the O'Laughlin Memorial Fund, which will be used to provide educational opportunities for students.
"We've still got money coming in," Gomez added. "I know a lot of people still want t-shirts, so we're planning to sell some more when school starts."
Gomez said he hoped this wouldn't be the last event they would organize. He's hoping to turn it into a yearly summer event for students before school starts.
"I'd like to make it a tradition," Gomez said.
The organizers of Joy include Mark Gomez, Jessica Klimes, Katlyn Freeman, Emily Parkes, Emily Atseff, Ella DaDan, Alex Wenstrup, David Hussey, Annie LeFevour, Matt McDonnell, Kaity Shepard and Annie LeFevour.
Performers in Order of Appearance:
- Morgan Vickery and Melissa Quirk - Angel Wings - Love and Theft
- Lizzy Peterson - Valerie - Amy Winehouse
- Chris Fonseca - Stand By Me - Ben E. King
- James Kowalski and Braden Westerhoff - Hey Hey - Dispatch
- Eamon Condon - A Sort of Homecoming - U2
- Macy Orrick - Amazing Grace - Traditional
- Josh Espinosa - In My Head/Just a Dream mash-up
- Keely Kriho and Ellie Borgton - Bruises/Why Not/Brighter Than You mash-up
- Josie Dunne - Hope - Emeli Sande
- Maggie Schwartz - Brighter Than the Sun - Colbie Caillat
- Community Service - You Say
- Sammi Cohen - I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack
- Stephanie Robinson - In the Dark I See - Light
- Olivia Jones, Tessa Metz, Grace Gumbiner - American Honey - Lady Antebellum
- Keely Kriho - Sort Of - Ingrid Michelson
- Behind the Iron Curtain - Untitled
- Ellie Borgton - Make You Feel My Love - Adele
- Mark Gomez and Kaity Shepard - Some Night - Fun
- David Gosz - The Scientist - Coldplay