St. Francis Xavier student organizes concert benefiting cancer patients

Dan’s House of Hope in Houston serves young adults receiving treatment

APPLETON — A high school career is typically defined by achievements in the areas of academics, sports, or fine arts. However, some students accomplish memorable feats outside those areas. St. Francis Xavier High School junior Juan Pablo Aragon is doing just that.

St. Francis Xavier High School junior Juan Pablo Aragon practices his trumpet in preparation for a March 14 benefit concert for Dan’s House of Hope, a home in Houston where young adults can live while receiving cancer treatment. The home is named after Xavier graduate Dan Kenneavy, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 17. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

Aragon is the organizer of a Wednesday, March 14, jazz concert that will benefit the Houston-based charity Dan’s House of Hope. The concert takes place at 7 p.m. at the Xavier Fine Arts Theatre and will feature the guest performance of José L. Encarnación, assistant professor of music and director of Jazz Studies at Lawrence University.

Dan’s House of Hope was founded in 2014 as a tribute to Xavier High School graduate Dan Kenneavy, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was 17 and lost his battle four years later. The goal of the organization is to “help with financial burdens and provide a home away from home while receiving treatment at a regional cancer facility located in Houston, Texas.”

“During one of the trips to Houston (for cancer treatment), Dan had a vision for a house where young adults fighting cancer could be in community and fight the battle together, so they don’t have to rent an apartment or a hotel room. They have a place to stay with other people who they can relate to,” said Aragon.

In years past, this benefit was organized by the entire junior class of Xavier High School. However, when Aragon saw that wasn’t going to happen this year, he was willing to step up and take full control. “I had a good friend who did it last year and I asked him how it went and he said, ‘Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it in the end.’ I decided to take it on and it’s been going pretty well. I’m really excited for it,” he said.

One of the most appealing aspects of heading up the fundraiser is that Aragon was able to combine his love of organizing events with his love of music, which is a passion he has had his whole life.

“I knew since kindergarten that I was really excited to be in band,” said Aragon. “In fourth grade I started trumpet lessons and joined band that year and I’ve been in band ever since. It’s something that I am actually considering for the future as my profession.”

While Encarnación is the featured musician, he will be playing along with the Xavier High School jazz bands at the event. “(He’s a) saxophone player, which is something we haven’t had in a while (for a guest performer). I’m excited for that,” said Aragon. “I read his biography, I watched some videos of him playing on YouTube and he seemed like a really good fit.”

In order to get in tune with the students, Encarnación has been holding clinics with the members of the jazz bands. It is this collaboration that strikes at the heart of what Aragon loves most about music.

“I really like the camaraderie that comes along with music,” he said. “Even though there are notes on a page, (seeing) how every single person who interprets those notes and plays it differently is a lot of fun, especially when you’re collaborating with like-minded people who have the same passion for music that you do.”

Last year the event raised about $2,200 for Dan’s House of Hope. This year Aragon is aiming to raise the bar and push the total over $2,500.

For those who have never attended this benefit concert, Aragon said it’s unlike a standard jazz performance. “It’s going to be a night of a lot of jazz and a very diverse concert. It’s not just all straight ’40s swing tunes,” said Aragon. “We have a little bit of classic swing, we have a little bit of newer Fred Sturm stuff, and we also have some Latin tunes. Not to mention the fact that Jose’s going to be there and really hitting it home with outstanding solos in pretty much every song. That’s really exciting.”

While many people would consider the task of organizing a benefit concert formidable, Aragon cherishes the opportunity and views the challenge as a unique advantage of Xavier High School. “There are a lot of opportunities for leadership development. The principal (Mike Mauthe) is really good at advocating for student leadership. He’s really big on students taking the torch and being leaders,” he said.

Passion for music and event organizing were big drivers for Aragon’s decision to lead this event, but more important was the ability to put his Catholic faith into action.

“I know that serving others is a very important part of my faith,” he said. “Getting the opportunity to serve others through raising funds for people who are battling cancer and the fact that it’s a concert with a genre of music that I absolutely love, it’s just perfect.”

Tickets for the event are available at www.xaviertheatre.com or (920) 733-8840. Admission is free, but a donation is encouraged. Tickets are needed for the reserved-seating event. To learn more about Dan’s House of Hope, visit their website.