About a dozen women gather at 8 a.m. on a Thursday in the sun room at Grace House, a transitional shelter for women who have been incarcerated. They take a few minutes to pass a chime around and introduce themselves and say how they feel. Then they begin a program that includes reading, singing and breathing exercises, ending with a drum circle in which each of the women is encouraged to find her own rhythm and listen to how all beats work together to make music. “That’s how community works,” said Tina Villapando, director of programming for Harmony, Hope and Healing. The organization is a not-for-profit that got its start 17 years ago using “the restorative power of music” to bring healing to people suffering the effects of poverty, substance abuse, violence and isolation. Harmony, Hope and Healing, based out of Old St. Patrick’s Parish, 700 W. Adams St., works with several partner agencies at 13 sites and has a performance ensemble that includes graduates of its programs as well as volunteers. Grace House offers its residents substance abuse training, education and job training as they prepare to live independently. Harmony, Hope and Healing’s weekly “morning meditation” has been available to residents for about four years. Participant Stacey Jackson said it’s her favorite group. “I like music,” she said. “I’ve always liked music. I like listening to the songs.” On this Thursday, the music, the lyrics and the readings all encourage participants to persevere, to keep themselves in a positive state despite the negativity in the world around them. Music “pulls on your heartstrings,” said Villapando. “We try to do a lot of inspirational songs.” Sophie Wingland, the program manager, said staff members meet the participants where they are and encourage them to form their own community around the music. “Sometimes people are in a place where they are just sitting back, and sometimes they’re going to be really into it,” she said. “But when someone says she’s not having a good day, or is just feeling blah, we’re not the first ones to jump in and encourage her. The other members of the group are right there to do that.” Sometimes, Wingland said, talking can be hard. The music can make it easier. Marge Nykaza founded Harmony, Hope and Healing 17 years ago when she started a music class at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, a transitional shelter for women and their children in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood. She was studying for her master’s degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University and was inspired by a social ethics class. She saw access to the arts as a social justice issue, she said. Then she saw the way music helped the women and their children find healing. Within three years, Harmony, Hope and Healing was incorporated as a non-profit, and she began adding sites. Last year, it served more than 700 people. This year, with the addition of three new sites, Nykaza expects to serve between 850 and 900. The challenge, she said, is not finding people to serve but finding the funds to pay for it. Harmony, Hope and Healing gets private donations, some stipends from its partner agencies, and, Nykaza said, support from several Catholic religious congregations. Its offices remain at Old St. Patrick’s Parish, and its choir sings at Mass there once a month, as well as at other engagements. The opportunity to perform is an incentive for some participants, as is the opportunity to be hired as a part-time intern to assist with the program. The group now has 12 part-time staff members, including those interns, as well as its three full-time staff. “The surprise is what a blessing this continues to be,” Nykaza said. “I continue to be amazed at the people we serve and their tenacity and their willingness to recover. We need this more than ever now, in this city where some people would say there’s nothing but violence.” For more information, visit www.harmonyhopeandhealing.org.