On Monday evening, the soaring strains of “How Great Thou Art” filled the vaulted sanctuary of the Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church in downtown Spokane, as the church’s orchestra practiced. The mellow tones of clarinets and the sweet sounds of strings spilled out into the hallways of the old stone building.
The group’s music has been made even sweeter thanks to a gift from Downtown Rotary Club 21. In May, the club awarded a $2,011 grant to the orchestra, enabling them to purchase a double bass and a case for the large instrument.
Conductor Borys Chayka said, “It’s amazing that we got this gift because the sound of the bass is what the orchestra really needed.” His son Aleksey Chayka served as his interpreter.
The Chaykas came to Spokane from Ukraine in 2006, and within a week, Chayka was directing the orchestra. And no wonder. He holds five music degrees and had previously taught music at the University of Kiev.
At Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, music is an important part of worship. In addition to the orchestra, the church boasts a band and two choirs. The 55 to 60 member orchestra is open to anyone who wants to join. Musicians range in age from 9 to 65, but Chayka said the main purpose of the group is to use music to keep the younger kids involved in church.
“Our youth dissolves so easily into American society,” he said. “We want to keep them in church.”
One of those young people, 16-year-old Ruslan Arishchenko, said he’s played guitar for five years. He enjoys being part of the orchestra. “I’m serving God and making other people happy.”
Anna Chumov, 16, who also plays guitar, agreed. “This is one way I can serve God,” she said.
Chayka heard about the Rotary from his English as a second language teacher, who encouraged him to apply for a grant for more instruments. Rotary Club 21 member Marjie Decker said Chayka and his son made a presentation to their group. “We could tell this was a labor of love for him,” she said. “He devotes hours and hours of effort.”
The downtown Rotary has a long-standing tradition of serving the community by giving to worthy causes. Member Steven Schneider said the civic affairs committee meets monthly to hear requests and presentations for grants. “Rotary Club 21 generates funds through annual contributions of members and also a local Rotary Club 21 endowment fund,” he said. The group gives approximately $100,000 each year to various groups and individuals.
Recently, the club awarded a $2,500 grant to Inland Northwest Lighthouse for the Blind (INL) to help purchase a guide dog kennel for their Spokane manufacturing site. INL spokesperson Melanie Wimenauer said the kennel will be part of their new facility.
The organization plans to add 40-50,000 square feet to its North Side facility. Currently, four employees use guide dogs. The kennel is expected to house seven to 15 dogs. “The Spokane community has enabled us to grow the way we have,” said Wimenauer.
For Rotary members, offering financial assistance is just another way of accomplishing the club’s motto: Service Above Self. But for groups like the orchestra at Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, the grants provide both practical help and much-needed encouragement.
Chayka said, “We are so very thankful. It’s one gift, but it really raised our hearts.”