Difference Maker: Joan Collaso, founder of Timeless Gifts

Timeless Gifts
Timeless Gifs founder Joan Collaso's husband Larry sits in on student Trẻ Lee's session. Photo credit Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) - Joan Collaso has been singing and performing her whole life, first in church and later as an Emmy winning professional.

"I sang in the children's church choir, the young adult choir, I sang in high school. Any chance I had to sing, I did." she smiled.

She soon realized that many young people don't have the exposure to the arts like she did. Often times, it's the first to be cut in a school district's budget.

"Timeless Gifts was born out of that deficit, I think," Collaso said.

Timeless Gifts Youth Program for the Performing Arts is a 501C3 organization that pairs young people with adult mentors.

"The concept is to pair world class professional musicians with young performers who are aspiring to what these professionals do. It was called Timeless Gifts because the gift we thought would be through the mentoring they'd receive for this little bit of time rehearsing for the performance would last them forever. That was the concept," said Collaso.

Timeless Gifts
Timeless Gifs founder Joan Collaso (left), with student Trẻ Lee (middle), and Joan's husband Larry (right) Photo credit Lisa Fielding

It started out as a Christmas duets concert in 2010. It soon turned into a seven-week performing arts summer camp in 2011 where students ages 3-24 learned music, stage presence, script writing, drama, dance & music theory and then performed what they've learned.

"More and more school districts were cutting the arts and we thought the concert wasn't enough. We really thought we needed to give kids more,” Collaso said.

Students can choose their field of interest.

"Kids hear about our program through word of mouth. We have auditions and interviews however we don't turn anyone away but we want to meet you, and what you'll be meeting going forward. You don't have to be this great entertainer to be a part of us. They choose what their disciplines are," Collaso said.

Timeless Gifts
Some of the youngest Timeless Gifts performers at a past show. Photo credit Lisa Fielding

19-year-old-Trẻ Lee is a musician and singer who started with Timeless Gifts when he was 13.

"This program is amazing. Instead of just going home or getting into trouble after school, now you have a family you can relate to, being with people who like to do what you do, and they want to give you the knowledge you need," Lee said

Lee is a music and performing arts major at Xavier University.

"Timeless Gifts definitely helped me get into college, that's for sure. I had extra opportunities because of this program," he added.

Now he's a student instructor.

"I'm still learning so much but now I get to pass it along. It's a great experience because I know at a certain point in my life, I want to teach music. This will help me cultivate that," Lee said.

Lee's co-workers affectionately call him the "nutcracker.”

Timeless Gifts
19-year-old-Trẻ Lee has been a part of Timeless Gifts for the last 6 years. Photo credit Lisa Fielding

"It's because all of our shy kids, I will not let them to be shy by the end of the summer," he laughed. "I make everyone participate and by the end of the seven-weeks, everyone has performed and broken out of their shells, just enough to get them out there and understand that this is a family and we're here to support one another." Lee said.

Collaso said once the students complete the program, many come back like Lee.

"We've created a community. All of them want to come back, we can't get rid of them," she laughed.

Over the last decade, Timeless Gifts have worked with 500 young people.
Collaso said the program is more than just about the arts, it's about camaraderie, confidence, finding your passion and finding your people which she knows changes lives.

"Some kids come in with a very low self esteem, or acute shyness. I have seen in the span of seven-weeks, because of the young people, because of the camaraderie and the way  they interact with each other, I've seen them come out of their shell in seven-weeks," Colllaso said.

Timeless Gifts
Joan Collaso's first Timeless Gifts summer camp was in 2011. Photo credit Joan Collaso

Lee said Timeless Gifts has made all the difference in his life.

"It's a very rewarding program. It  gets farther than you think. It's hard to put into words how much this has changed my life," Callaso said.

The Timeless Gifts summer program is held in CineCity. The kids will be performing a holiday special concert event Sunday December 11, 2022, at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center. There is a 3 p.m. VIP reception and 4:30 p.m. concert. It will feature duets with Timeless Gifts’ world-class instructors and students as well as a special musical guest, The Chicago Experience, who will perform the best of Hall of Fame Rock group CHICAGO.

Click here for tickets and more information.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Lisa Fielding