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Westport carolers set record, raise money

Singing from door to door, Connecticut carolers help fund arts in schools.
By Donald E. Skinner

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A record-breaking 502 carolers gathered near the Unitarian Church in Westport, Conn., to raise funds and holiday cheer. (Helen Klisser During)

The Unitarian Church in Westport, Conn., set a record for caroling on December 12 when it organized a community event that involved 502 people singing holiday songs door to door.

The event, One Voice, raised more than $4,000 for the Lily Sarah Grace Fund which supports the arts in elementary schools. The fund was named for three young girls who died in a house fire in nearby Stamford a year ago. Adults paid $10 and children $5 to participate in the caroling. The group was required to sing five minutes at each of 14 houses.

Guinness World Records established this caroling category at the request of the church. Member Jim Keenan, who organized the event, said that although there is a caroling record set by more than 15,000 people singing in a mall in South Korea, there was no record category for caroling door to door. Guinness agreed to create such a category. Keenan said the idea for the event grew out of a caroling party held a year ago by a men’s group in the congregation, UGNO (Unitarian Guys Night Out). “We had such a good time I told everyone we should set the world record,” Keenan said.

The requirements for the record include caroling at a minimum of 10 homes, with not more than five minutes between homes. Keenan said an additional 600 people wanted to participate, but had to be turned away. He said the group had to be small enough to quickly move from house to house and to fit into neighborhoods.

Leaders recruited corporate sponsors, including Stop & Shop, which provided free hot chocolate and cider and paid part of the expenses. Two Guinness representatives were hired to follow along to ensure the event qualified. Erik Paul, a member of the congregation and a local music teacher, was music director of the event. Keenan estimated most of the participants were not members of the congregation. “We made this a nondenominational countywide effort.”

The event not only remembers the fire victims and raises money for school arts programs. It also raises awareness of the ongoing recovery of the Compo Beach area of Westport, which is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy damage. “When you look at all the things this event is doing, it puts a smile on your face for sure,” said Keenan. “This is really the feel-good event of the holiday season.” Keenan has some experience with group events. He organizes Westport’s annual Chowdafest, which helps support a local food bank.

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