Randy Locke, Carol Sparrow have been charitable songbirds for 19 years through their nonprofit organization
Like the song says, “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly” … and singers? They like to help them.
At least Carol Sparrow and Randy Locke do.
After operatic careers that took them to over 60 countries, the couple is semi-retired. That is, they aren’t traveling all over the world singing, although as Locke is fond of saying, “You never really retire, you just start doing other things.”
One of Sparrow and Locke’s main things is running their nonprofit charity, Opera for Animals, Singing is Saving, or OASIS. The organization provides support for animal welfare groups that aid in rescue, protection and prevention of animal cruelty.
On Saturday, March 7, OASIS will host its 19th annual benefit and fundraiser at the Palm Aire Country Club. The evening will include dinner, a silent auction and raffles, and, of course, the two things that inspired them to create the event.
“We love opera, we love animals,” Sparrow says. “Randy and I had always wanted to have a nonprofit of some kind where we could use our voices.”
They started OASIS about 20 years ago. They’d considered starting an animal sanctuary of their own, so much so that they attended a weeklong seminar at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.
“They run you through your paces,” Locke says, “you muck stalls for the horses and you clean up the cages. It's not glamorous at all.”
He and Sparrow realized they didn’t have the time — not to mention the money — to start their own sanctuary. Then it occurred to them, the one asset they had in abundance was their musical ability. They could do the most good for animals by helping existing organizations. Not only that, it’s a service that travels easily. They could help organizations pretty much anywhere.
And that’s the way it’s worked. Since 2001, OASIS has provided either money or entertainment to raise money for over 30 animal-related organizations, some as far flung as Louisiana, New York, Ohio, even Mexico.
The majority, though, are within a gas tank or so of Sarasota.
“Most of it goes to local nonprofits,” Sparrow says. “Keep the money of the community in the community.”
This annual concert is OASIS’ big fundraiser of the year. Locke says they’ve plenty of support, as more people from the opera world up north are reaching “you never really retire” age and are moving to Sarasota.
“We've always known about opera singers and the operatic community, orchestral people and singers — passionate people aren’t passionate just about one thing,” Locke says. “They’re passionate about a lot of things. And animals, especially for people who spend a lot of time on the road, their pets are like family to them.”
The annual fundraiser is OASIS’ signature event. Sparrow says they design it to be equally appealing to animal lovers and to music lovers.
The musical portion of the event is designed to be satisfying to seasoned opera fans and newcomers alike, with an interesting lineup of singers. Joining Sparrow and Locke will be Katherine Herbert, a young soprano from Parrish, Fla., who is embarking on her professional career after studying at Juilliard last year. Also, 12-year-old soprano Grace Grogan, a student of Sparrow’s who recently placed second in an international competition in New York. And finally, Jacob Smith, who started his opera career after serving in the Marines and got into Opera Tampa on his first professional audition.
Each of them will sing an operatic selection, as well as some “popera,” — pop songs sung in an operatic style. “We want it to be accessible and enjoyable,” Sparrow says.
Before the music starts, guests will be reminded that the evening is all about the animals. When they walk in the door, they’ll be greeted by the sight of Greg Para, founder of the Sarasota Parrot Conservatory, a sanctuary for relinquished parrots, with two of his rescued birds.
In a way, it was a mutual rescue, Sparrow and Locke explain. They met Para a little over a year ago and were taken by his quietly sincere, positive personality. Para told them that after he came home after two tours in Afghanistan, the birds were what helped him get past his PTSD.
“He's going to show the parrots,” Sparrow said, “and just to know that they've saved his life. I mean, it's just so amazing.”
There will also be a contingent of kittens from SPCA Florida near Lakeland, not as an adoption event but to literally a warm and fuzzy feeling to the occasion.
Doors will open at 6 p.m., with dinner starting as soon as they can pry the animal lovers away from the entrance.