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For the Kids 

Sergio Mendoza, Calexico and more headline the fourth Concert for Civility

After organizing fundraising concerts with big names like Jackson Browne and Ben Folds, the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding decided to turn its attention this year to younger ears.

The fourth Concert for Civility, on Sunday, Jan. 19, features a family-friendly slate of bands—including children's music and a performance by Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School—in an afternoon showcase.

Envisioned as a living memorial to the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting victims, the fund has focused on music from the start, with a star-studded benefit concert in March 2011 drawing thousands to the Tucson Convention Center to hear Browne, Alice Cooper, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Keb' Mo' and Ozomatli.

"What we all know and what we learned more so with that concert is how music brings people together ... it's a way we can come to a common ground and have a common moment as we experience a song," says Jennie Grabel, executive director of the fund.

The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding was organized in the days after Jan. 8, when Ron Barber, then an aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was still in intensive care recovering from gunshot wounds. Barber and his family sought to create an organization that could make positive and lasting change in the wake of senseless tragedy. The family developed a focus on programs in two main areas: eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental illness and ending bullying.

Beyond just raising money, the concerts have been a way to build community connections, using music to inspire and heal, and to promote the fund's aims of civility and respect.

"The family is absolutely music lovers. It's just a fun thing to do for the community. It's a reciprocal thing," Grabel says. "We'll get some funding back to support our work, but it's also a celebration of how awesome our community is."

Joey Burns of Calexico returns to play another Civility concert, this time with his band and a group of friends that includes Amparo Sanchez of Spain. Though Burns and Calexico had a close relationship with Barber and Giffords for years before Jan. 8, he says the shooting touched people throughout the community.

"It's always important to go deep and to think about what's been happening ever since 2011 in our community and these other communities that have gone through horrible tragedies involving gun violence," Burns says. "I'll never forget that day. Thinking about what's happened all around our country, it tears me up. It's never too late and it's always important to keep things like civil discourse in mind."

Though time does heal wounds—a maxim proved most dramatically by Giffords herself during a life-affirming skydiving trip to mark the shooting's third anniversary—Burns says the Civility concerts are an important reminder.

"There's always going be part of our community that's going to be needing some kind of shrine, some kind of reflection on those who are not with us, especially those who were so young. Being a father, I can only imagine how horrible it must be for the families. It just makes you want to do something," he says. "This is what I can do, play some songs and celebrate, and that's where music comes in. It can do so many different things; it can straddle so many emotional sentiments."

Sanchez, who is in Tucson recording a new album, jumped at the chance to help out her adopted second home, Burns says.

"She's always been one who's been involved in her community in Spain and helping out with various benefit causes. She's a like-minded individual and I'm glad she can be involved and bring her slant on community," Burns says.

Grabel says choosing a different focus for this year's event, with teen performers instead of chart-toppers, is a way to appeal to families.

"We're hoping to draw in concertgoers and music lovers as well as invite families out for the afternoon. The event itself will be a place where everybody can hang out and enjoy themselves," she says.

"The other thing we wanted to do with kids is give them a chance to see other young performers so they can get inspired to maybe pick up instruments and play music themselves. We're so blessed to have so much young talent in Tucson and we're really excited to have Mariachi Aztlan join us."

Calexico has a longstanding relationship with Mariachi Luz de Luna, and that group's singer-guitarist, Johnny Contreras, is the director of Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School.

"Any time you have a concert like this where there are performers who are kids themselves or performing for kids, it's great," Burns says.

The Concert for Civility will also give the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding an opportunity to show the community what the money raised so far has accomplished. In its first round of grants last year, the fund received about 40 proposals before selecting eight that showed the most promise. It awarded $21,000 for programs targeting bullying and mental health.

The recipients—La Paloma Family Services, CODAC Behavioral Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona, Our Family Services, the Child Language Center, the Pima County School Superintendent's Office and Creative Spirit's Healthy Play, Hope Inc. and the Special Olympics—have been invited to set up tables at Hotel Congress to spread the word about their programs.

"Of the eight projects, six are focused on bullying and I'm really pleased with how it all came together," Grabel says. "When we look at bullying as an organization, we look at it as a lifespan issue. It isn't just in schools, it's in workplaces and we funded projects that reflect that, from a preschool program all the way to workplace bullying."

The fund will begin assessing its long-term stability this year, following the move last summer from being a project of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona to being its own 501(c)(3).

"We have a bit of a transition happening now and we're looking at what sort of money we have coming in so we can know what is going out," Grabel says. "So many people continue to come together and one of the most important things we want to do with the fund is continue that desire to make our community a better place."

More by Eric Swedlund

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