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The Appalachian Children's Chorus is (front row, left to right): Olivia Hayes, Mary Young, Hannah Dietz, Tyler McGough, Ariana Deel, Trinity Burns, Allison Jeffrey, Bri Sigmon, Selena Midkiff; (middle row, left to right) Susan Prigozen, Angela Radochio, Abigail Goodlet, Nadia Goff, Zoee Watson, Aaron Anderson, Grace Goggins, Brooke Layton, Ellie Cantley, Max Yang, Asa Lyvers; (back row, left to right) Thessa Bennett, Abby Pauley, Annabel Canterbury, Jenna DeTemple, Emma Meadows, Jennifer Hicks, Arianna Edwards, Austin White and Emily Lambert.

The Appalachian Children’s Chorus is a local choir that has been in West Virginia for over 25 years. This year the choir discovered that their former executive director, Jacqueline Holly Portillo, had embezzled almost $100,000. I talked with the choir’s director, Selina Midkiff, to see how the choir is and what things they have planned for the future.

“This is an organization for children that helps, I believe, make them better human beings, better people,” Midkiff said. “The music is the medium through which we love each other, respect each other and help young people be good people.”

The environment is “supportive,” “loving” and a “no bullying” zone according to Midkiff. Over the organization’s many years, they have been to Italy, Canada, Carnegie Hall, Ireland and England. They are going to Hawaii in December to help in the annual Pearl Harbor Day commemorating ceremonies.

The choir’s former executive director embezzled close to $100,000 over the course of seven years. Portillo pleaded guilty to four felony embezzlement charges in June for which she will serve up to 10 years, according to a Gazette-Mail article. When it was discovered, it left the organization in survival mode.

Midkiff describes it as a “very, very difficult year,” and said that the organization was beyond shocked.

“We were so busy digging out all of her theft that other things went without being done. So we were kind of on automatic pilot,” Midkiff said. “We did not prosecute her. Because we receive state funds, once I found out this mistake — this theft — first call was to our bank to let them know. Second call was to the state of West Virginia, because we had to be totally transparent.”

Midkiff also said she observed what she described as a “weird cloud” that was in the room with Portillo. She said that she noticed it for a long time, but only found out what it was later.

“[The choir has] a lot to look forward to,” Midkiff said.

The choir is hosting auditions in January, and you can find more information about the Appalachian Children’s Chorus at wvacc.org.