If you are fortunate, you have had a teacher who stood out in your life. A special mentor, whose teaching went beyond books and into real life lessons that inspired and motivated you to be the best you could be. As director of choral music at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Judy Sagen has been that extraordinary teacher for countless students. For 36 years, she has trained not only students’ voices to stand out in a crowd, but also their character.

Her impact was apparent at Voices of Hope, the February 5th sing-a-thon she has spearheaded over past two years. 1000 singers and hundreds of volunteers came together over 16 hours to raise their voices in honor of cancer patients and their families, and to raise money for Angel Foundation.

“I was present when Judy began to percolate this dream in her head,” says Linda Albertson, a fellow teacher at Eastview. “Those lucky enough to have Judy in their lives, […] know the power that can be unleashed when a spark in [her] brain catches fire in [her] heart.” A couple of years ago, Judy saw on television a group of women running on treadmills to raise money for breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Intrigued with the idea, she brought it back to the all girls’ choir at school for consideration. One of the choir members mentioned that her mother had pancreatic cancer. “I asked the girls to raise their hands if they knew someone with cancer,” says Judy. “And all of their hands went up. This said so much.”

Then one of the students jumped unasked to the white board to start taking down ideas for fundraisers. “I realized then that while I was the trigger for the event, the kids had become the initiators,” she says. Together, they decided to raise awareness by raising their own voices in a sing-a-thon. Their mission was to help others through the enjoyment of music.

“My students and I talk about anything and everything,” says Judy. “They have told me that they don’t know what to say when somebody dies. We thought “What better way to express ourselves than through music? While my role is to educate through music, I realized a few years ago that there is more to our art. I realize how powerful music [can be] and the services it [can provide] for human beings.”

In addition to raising $20,000 for Angel Foundation, this year’s Voices of Hope gave students the opportunity to speak out about the challenges they and their families were facing from cancer, and to receive the support of their peers and their community. “In learning that several of her students were coping with [a] parent’s cancer diagnosis, Judy just couldn’t sit back another year,” says Linda about the founding of Voices of Hope. “She needed to give these kids a way to fight back to stand up to this disease that was attacking their families.”

Judy’s other students now have a way to show their classmates how much they care and how much they want to be involved in the fight against cancer. Voices of Hope depends upon students acting in many capacities-as audience members cheering other students on, volunteers in event preparation and execution, and as singers who perform. “It was a joy to see so many of my students become involved,” she says. “I was proud that the students took it to heart and stood by the mission. They derived enjoyment from giving of themselves to so worthy a cause.”

“Judy teaches music but she is also teaching her kids and all of us how to use community and talent to solve problems,” Linda adds. “This wonderful day of celebrating music happened because one gifted teacher refused to let her students struggle alone-and is teaching us all what can happen when a great idea, great need and a great spirit come together and demand to be heard.” But Judy remains focused on the good the kids are doing for themselves and the feeling of camaraderie and support network they are building up for their classmates in need. “The kids have a chance to give of themselves to something that is bigger than them,” she says. “They’ve told me it feels good.”

Read more at the Voices of Hope Facebook page, or on their website.