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Being a Poppen scholar was ‘like having a guardian angel’

Elijah Curry

When Elijah Curry began as a Poppen Programs scholar, the then-middle school student knew he loved the artsbut he had no idea that, in just a matter of years, he would be living out his dreams as a singer, dancer and actor in New York City.

Now, that is exactly what he’s doing, and the performer who recently wrapped up a contract playing Barry Belson in the musical “Jersey Boys,” is currently setting his sights on Broadway. As he does so, Elijah said he frequently thinks of the major role the Poppen Programs played in bringing him to New Yorkand of Sherm Poppen, who passed away last week. [Read our remembrance of Sherm by clicking here.]

A 2011 graduate of Muskegon High School, Elijah began with the Poppen Programs while he was in middle school and was a recipient of the Nancy K. Poppen Program, which Nancy and Sherm Poppen established at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County in 1993. The Poppen Programs, which includes the Nancy K. Poppen Fund and the Sherman R. Poppen Scholarship Fund, provide arts opportunities to low-income students in Muskegon Public Schools. For Elijah, that meant having access to private saxophone lessons, financial support for high school band camp, voice lessons, and the ability to attend a college-level summer music camp at Western Michigan University.

“The Poppens gave so much more than their money; they gave opportunity and inspiration to low-income students,” Elijah said, referring to Sherm and his wife, Nancy Poppen. “Students that may have been told they are less than, this fund confirms that your socioeconomic situation does not have to limit your dreams. If you look in the right places and work hard, anything is possible.”

“I also want people to understand that arts in education is essential to developing confidence and understanding of the world,” he continued. “Even if you can’t give as big as the Poppens, supporting your local arts program can truly change lives.”

One of 2,000-plus students who have connected with the arts because of the Nancy K. Poppen Fund, Elijah said he was thrilled when he had the chance to meet Sherm at one of his “end of year” recitals, which showcases the Poppen students’ work.

“He was very interested in what we had to say, but was very soft-spoken and allowed us to speak,” Elijah said. “He seemed so proud of the work we were doing through his wife’s fund.”

Born and raised in Muskegon, Elijah always loved the artistic worldbut he said it was being a Poppen student that “helped me really realize my true love and appreciation for the arts.”

“Being a Poppen scholar was like having a guardian angel watching out for your artistic needs,” Elijah said. “I would not be the artist I am today without the Poppen Program.”

For more information about the Poppen Programs, please click here. To support the Nancy K. Poppen Fund, please go here, and to support the Sherman R. Poppen Scholarship Fund, please click here. And if you haven’t had the good fortune to see Elijah Curry perform, you can see his website here.