“Some people wait a lifetime…for a moment like this…. Oh, I can’t believe it’s happening to me….”
The lyrics from Kelly Clarkson’s blockbuster hit from the first season of the ratings juggernaut American Idol translate into melody the feeling that washes over you when an admiring crowd bathes you in thunderous applause and cheers. Years of grueling lessons, seemingly-endless practice and lingering self-doubt finally are validated and rewarded.
That euphoria is part of First Columbia Bank and Trust’s annual Teen Star competition, which just celebrated its fifth year of star-making and community-building.
Teen Star affords musicians in grades 9 through 12 a venue to perform in public and showcase their talents in a setting that embraces them. No Simon Cowell is waiting in the wings to tear apart fragile spirits with a scathing critique, and no multi-million-dollar recording contract is at stake. Here, friendly competition, camaraderie, positive feedback, prize money, and school donations numbering in the thousands of dollars are the fruits of their labors of love.
The unique bank-created musical competition is open to students in Columbia County, a historic riverside region in central Pennsylvania, populated by picturesque farms and forest land. Each year, about 50 students audition, and the top 12 advance to the finals. More than 900 community members attend the finale at Bloomsburg University’s impressive performing arts center. Fans come bearing handmade signs and wearing T-shirts lobbying for their favorite performer.
In this contest, not just one superstar is crowned victorious. The whole community wins.
The competition has a cause. This year, $5,500 in ticket proceeds was donated to the schools of the winning performers and finalists, to help fund their music departments, buying everything from sheet music and sound equipment to new instruments. Millville Junior/Senior High School, which produced two winners in 2014, purchased a baby grand piano for their high school auditorium, a coveted purchase that music teachers say they could never have afforded without the added help of First Columbia.
Over the past five years, First Columbia Bank has given a total of $25,000 in prize money to winners and another $25,000 to school music programs. First Columbia donated all of the prize money for the winners, and 100 percent of ticket sales are devoted to local schools.
Last year the bank’s debit card vendor, Vantiv, stepped in with an additional $5,000 to support the program. This year, another surprise was in store. Bank officials announced that they are planning to donate $200,000 to area schools through the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC). The donation will be used to introduce a new Tech Theatre production curriculum and purchase related sound equipment. The popular EITC program extends tax credits to eligible businesses who donate to innovative education initiatives. (For more information on the EITC program, visit http://community.newpa.com/programs/educational-improvement-tax-credit-program-eitc/)
This year, the winner in the instrumentals category was a high school senior from Berwick, Andrew Miller, who was a finalist the year before. He performed two dynamic original piano compositions.
In the vocalist category, freshman Sydney Panikkar from Central Columbia High School wowed the crowd with her creative performances.
Both winners received $1,500. Ten other finalists won cash prizes as well.
New this year was an element of audience participation. Members of the audience could text their choice of the fourth finalist to advance to the final round. Showing the power of the people, the crowd choice went on to win the instrumentalist crown.
Lance Diehl, bank president and CEO, said, “This program has grown to become one of our signature community events. Teen Stars keeps a love of music alive and encourages young talent. The equipment it helps to purchase allows them to hone their skills even more.”
The seeds for the program were planted by Pennsylvania native Aaron Kelly, who was a finalist on Season 9 of American Idol. The excitement built as Kelly advanced through each round, eventually making it to the top five. Aaron, now 22, was one of the youngest contestants to make it through to the top 12. His renditions of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” and Lonestar’s “I’m Already There” brought audience members to tears.
The town’s enthusiasm for their local celebrity sparked the idea of the bank creating a musical contest of its own to benefit local schools. Aaron Kelly graciously served as a guest judge the first two years of the competition and returned this year to mark the program’s milestone fifth year.
It’s all in a day’s work for a bank that has become a superstar on the national stage. The bank has operated for more than 115 years, winning state and national awards for its Teen Stars program and its work to revive a flood-ravaged town and playground after hurricanes and rising river waters swept through with destructive force just a few years ago.
With $637 million in assets, the bank is locally owned and managed, with 13 branch offices: in Benton, Berwick, Bloomsburg, Buckhorn, Catawissa, Elysburg, Lightstreet, Orangeville, Millville, and Scott Township.
The bank is committed to helping area youth grow and prosper and supports the local schools with scholarship awards, financial literacy programs, and a host of athletic sponsorships.
For the Teen Star contest, bank employees begin planning months ahead of the event. Many become “Teen Star Ambassadors,” decorating their branches and competing for the most ticket sales. Nearly 50 bank employee and directors attend the finale and volunteer to help run the show as ushers, box office attendants and backstage hands each year.
The bank uses Facebook, press releases and their website to get the word out about Teen Star, and posters and announcements blanket the schools and local business establishments. After the final competition is over, finalists reunite throughout the year performing at the Bloomsburg Fair, and singing together atop the bank’s Teen Star float in the local Independence Day parade.
“This program engages the community and our young people and gives them a platform to showcase their talents,” said Maria Valles, marketing director at First Columbia. “It also gives us a platform to talk about how beneficial music programs are for students and how important it is to financially support these programs in our schools.”
“While we could very well just write a check to show our support for the schools, creating a fun and unique experience for these talented young people makes it so much more meaningful and engaging. It has really evolved and expanded into something the whole community looks forward to,” Diehl said.
Whether the bank is supporting a teen with Broadway dreams, or a young family with the dream of owning a home or launching a new business, First Columbia is committed to building superstars. Their motto is “Every step of the way,” and they endeavor to be there, supporting and applauding, every step of the way toward that dream, whatever it may be.
This Community Bank Profile can be found featured in the August 2015 issue of Transactions. Not a subscriber? Visit the Transactions page on this website or call PACB at 717-231-7447 to start receiving the magazine.