This month, Unity Performing Arts Foundation shines our spotlight on Lilith Nzingha Schenkel.
Lily was born in Northeastern Illinois in 1999, arriving 13 weeks early and weighing only 1lb and 14 oz. Lily was given a less than 5% chance of survival. She not only survived but she proved her natural born fighting spirit by making it through a combined total of 93 office, therapy and hospital admissions in her first year of life.
At 10 weeks, Lily went home with Don and Cathi Schenkel, who upon adopting her gave her the middle name of Nzingha. Nzingha from the 16th century was a fighter and the Schenkels felt Lily had that same fighting spirit and quiet leadership.
While in elementary school, Lily participated in gymnastics, playing the viola, singing with the Southeastern Wisconsin Performing Arts Children’s Choir [SEWPA] and in the choir at church. When the family moved to Fort Wayne, Lily continued to be very active, participating in girl’s softball, martial arts, bowling, altar guild and as a teaching assistant for the children’s church.
Fast forward to today, Lily is a senior at North Side High School and is a second year Culinary Arts student at Anthis Career Center. The Culinary Arts students of Anthis were recently recognized for designing an express lunch program called C.U.B.E. in which they provide an affordable $4 lunch. The students named the program, designed the logo, set the menu each week, determine the budget, staff, prepare, cook and serve the food.
Lily loves to bowl and has been on the North Side varsity bowling team for four years. Lily recently made it to Semi-State in bowling, having missed going to State by 16 pins.
Lily heard a soulful art performance of the Voices of Unity and wanted to join the choir. She joined VOU on December 5, 2015 as a soprano. Cathi and Don dove right becoming dedicated volunteers for UNITY. Cathi joined the UNITY staff in May of 2016 as a program assistant. She also works as the weekend supervisor for the Voices of Unity. Lily started volunteering during weekend rehearsals and became a student assistant in November 2016. Don continues to be one of UNITY’s most active volunteers.
Lily, as well as Cathi, traveled with the Voices of Unity during the European tour where she experienced an opportunity of a lifetime to tour 4 countries, 9 cities and participate in 10 performances while taking in several beautiful and historical sites.
When Lily was asked what does she like about VOU, Lily responded, “I like being able to learn and sing soulful music. That was the reason I joined.”
Lily’s favorite experience with VOU so far is going to Europe. Lily commented, “ I knew that I would go one day, but I didn’t know it would happen with VOU. Other than VOU, I don’t know anyone who can say that they were invited to sing for mass at the Vatican. The trip was an amazing and inspirational journey for me. I was inspired by the very people we were singing to who were inspired by the music that we performed.”
As for the life lessons Lily has learned through VOU, Lily noted, “ I have learned the purpose of our being here is to not take up space but to fill it with hard work, joy, striving for excellence and always to give back. I also learned that distance doesn’t disconnect you, death does.”
We asked Lily, if she could give advice to someone who is thinking about joining UNITY, what would it be? Lily said, “I would encourage them to join UNITY because our generation has the strongest opportunity to end racism, violence, ignorance, poverty and hunger. We all need to work together. Music helps to heal and to bring about joy and love. If you join us you will learn that you have great strength and how not to be afraid of how powerful one person can be. “
Lily plans to attend Ivy Tech’s Culinary Arts degree program with a minor in Math/Chemistry. After that, she is considering a degree in Dietary Science. One of her goals is to take classes during the summer at Johnson and Wales in Florida where they offer specialized pastry and baking classes to enhance her training from Ivy Tech.
Cathi says of her daughter, “ While we hope Lily will consider returning to Fort Wayne and perhaps pursue a career with Fort Wayne Community Schools and become a mentor for Voices of Unity Youth Choir, we know that her future is bright and her willingness to work hard and overcome obstacles will serve her well as she pursues her dreams.”
Continue to grow and shine Lily!