by Pete Mazzaccaro
Most 11-year-old kids spend their summers honing their swimming-pool skills or sharpening up for sports at camp. Maybe they do little more than go on a summer-long break of hanging at the house and wasting away the days with friends also out of school.
Maya Esberg, an 11-year-old Hill resident about to go back to Germantown Friends School where she will begin the seventh grade, spent her summer planning a benefit concert, featuring local singer and recording artist Jessi Teich, to raise money for an orphanage and children’s service in Kenya called St. Rita’s, an organization that cares for children whose parents have died of HIV/AIDS.
Esberg said she was introduced to St. Rita Community-Based Orphan Care as a sixth grader when her homeroom teacher, June Gondi, asked her class to raise at least $20 per student for the charity.
“Our class raised $500,” she said. “We started a feeding program that guarantees at least one meal a day. I hope the money I raise at the concert will help the feeding program continue to grow so they can have three meals a day and grow to accept more kids. Rita’s is not an orphanage in the traditional sense that’s it’s like an actual building. They help kids by finding them food and clothing and finding them homes.”
The idea for the benefit came to Esberg and family – mother Tema, dad Doug and brother Adin – when they were meeting with their Rabbi at Mishkan Shalom about a charitable work Esberg would have to perform in order to receive her Bat Mitzvah when she turns 12. Esberg explained that all children in line for Bar and Bat Mitzvah must work for or raise money for a charity.
“I knew I wanted to help St. Rita’s, but I didn’t know how or what I was going to do,” Esberg said. “We were brainstorming ideas, thinking about things I was interested in, and music came up as something I really enjoy.”
Indeed. Esberg took piano lessens between first and fifth grades. Last year, bored with the piano, she set out to find a different instrument. She settled on an unusual choice: the upright bass.
“I was trying to brainstorm about what the most unusual instrument I could play would be,” she said, “something that would give me a better shot of being in a jazz group. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a female upright bassist.”
She recalled seeing a jazz combo in the window of restaurant downtown. During a bass solo, she fell in love with the instrument.
“I don’t know who it was, but I remember thinking, ‘I really want to play that,’” she said. “It sounds so beautiful. I want to try and do that.”
Esberg will play at least one song with Teich, whose enthusiasm for the benefit helped Esberg make it into what really has become a big-time fundraiser.
Esberg said her mother, Tema Esberg, is friends with Teich, a jazz R&B performer who put out a debut album in 2010 called “Barely There.”
Esberg wrote to Teich to ask her to perform at the concert. Teich loved the idea and accepted, but not before putting in motion a series of plans that would make Esberg’s little fundraiser something substantially greater.
“Originally it was going to be a small thing, with Jessi and maybe one other group in the basement of my synagogue,” Esberg said, “Jessi was so excited, she sent my letter to her friend* Jeff Green. They wanted to get a lot more involved than just having Jessi play, so we set up a meeting to talk about bigger ideas.”
The meeting included the revelation that Green was so interested in the benefit that he had secured corporate sponsors for the performance. The sponsors have donated enough to ensure that every dime raised at the concert and auction will go directly to St. Rita’s
Esberg will take the stage with Teich during the performance that will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2, at the ACE Conference Center, 800 Ridge Pike in Lafayette Hill. Other performers include Leana Song, an Afro-Cuban drum and music ensemble. The concert will be outdoors, weather permitting, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Tickets for the event are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Tickets can be purchased, and $10 donations can be made at maya.ticketbud.com.
Esberg said that the planning for the event has been work, but she doesn’t seem at all fazed by how much time she spent this summer answering emails and making scouting calls to would-be participants and donors (it’s worth noting here that it was Maya who made the call to my office to let us know about the event, not her mother or father).
“I knew I had to make time around other things I did this summer for this,” she said. “ I went away for two weeks to sleep-away camp but still had access to email to answer questions and check up on the event.”
When it came time to gather donation items, it was Esberg who went door-to-door on Germantown Avenue to ask shop owners for items. She said she has between 15 and 20 items, including toys from O’Doodles, gift certificates for Indigo Schuy, a print from the Philadelphia Print Shop, a piece from Gravers Lane Gallery and a signed Phillies baseball. She wasn’t sure who the player was at the time.
“But hey, it’s a Phillies baseball,” she said.
There’s even a guitar and free lessons package from Bluebond guitars in Center City.
The best part for Esberg is that, although the benefit has become so big, the theme that started it all should be well represented: kids helping kids.
“That’s what this is,” she said. “We’ll have kids from my school playing music, and it’s part of kids helping other kids.”
* An earlier version of this story referred to Green as Teich’s producer. He is not.