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Atlanta homeless choir set to perform at White House holiday event

When Donal Noonan has the chance to dream, he dreams big.

Noonan is the founder and director of Atlanta’s Homeward Choir, a group of 26 homeless men from the city’s Central Night Shelter.

Now, with a little help from some friends, a new dream is becoming a reality.

On Monday, 19 of his singers will appear at the White House to perform at its Holiday Open House Celebration.

Their road to Pennsylvania Avenue began after a one stellar performance last year.

Atlanta Homeward Choir/Facebook
Donal Noonan and the members of the Atlanta Homeward Choir. The group is singing at a White House holiday event on Monday.

A friend of Noonan’s asked him how he planned to top it.

“Next stop, White House,” he replied.

“We laughed and left it there, but a seed was planted in my head,” Noonan told TODAY.com.

Through a friend, he connected with Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who put feelers into the Oval Office.

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The Washington Post reported Lewis sent the president a letter on the choir’s behalf.

When the official invite came, Noonan said the choir was “in complete shock.

“They were like ‘Why do they want us to go?’ And I said ‘Why wouldn’t they want us to go?’” he said.

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“It’s such an honor to even be considered. It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing. We’re just over the moon.”

While the excitement is contagious in the local community as well as on the Internet, Noonan and the choir faced some challenges.

For example, the group needed to raise a considerable amount of money for clothes, toiletries, suitcases, lights, accommodations, transportation while in D.C. and more.

Help came from unexpected corners.

Atlanta Homeward Choir/Facebook
Members of the choir in the new uniforms they will wear to perform at the White House.

Southwest Airlines pitched in round-trip tickets for everyone, while a fundraising campaign to raise $25,000 beat that goal by more than a thousand dollars.

“One of the things in dealing with and working with the homeless community, you realize how much you have yourself as a person,” Noonan said.

Bryant Allen, a member of the choir, knows this sentiment too well.

Homeless for a year, he joined the choir at its inception three years ago and is now living in an apartment on his own and working at an Einstein’s Bagels in Atlanta.

For him, the group started as an opportunity for men to escape the streets as winter approached, but the camaraderie gave him a sense of community.

“You start to feel invisible on the streets,” Allen told TODAY.com. “To have people coming up to me after the performances and they’re shaking my hand and telling me how great we were, it helped me open up to people. It helped me make friends.

“The shelter and the choir were kind of what I needed to gain momentum back to get my life back together,” he said.

At the White House Monday, the group plans to sing a number of holiday pieces, including Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Josh Groban’s “Believe” from the movie “The Polar Express,” “Mary Had a Baby” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”

For Noonan, the biggest thing is that a group that began as a way “to make the guys laugh” has now become a family.

“Music is the common denominator for all people. Music’s ability to bring people together is natural, it’s part of the natural order,” he said.

And as for what he’s dreaming for 2016?

"I’m afraid to say in case it comes true,” he said. “Someone said to me we’re going to have to go to the Vatican next.”

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