More than a year after a vehicle accident paralyzed 8-year-old Charlotte Brown from the waist down, she and her family are finding inspiration and spirit in song.
While Charlotte was in a Seattle hospital recovering from her Dec. 8, 2001, Juneau accident, many performers - from musicians to clowns - came by to visit and lift her spirits, said her father, Jason Brown.
"(They were) there just to bring inspiration to the kids and bring a smile to the kids' faces and to make their day brighter," Brown said. "So when Charlotte got out of the hospital she wanted to give something back to the community that gave to her."
To that end, Charlotte, her father and her four nieces - 8-year-olds Ellen and Darrein Sharclane, 7-year-old Myrna Sharclane, and 5-year-old Toni Sharclane - formed an "inspirational music performance group" called the Alaska Glitter Girls.
Their repertoire combines Christian music and secular classics such as "Tiny Bubbles" and "You're a Grand Old Flag," Brown said. They performed for the first time at a Sept. 11 remembrance day at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.
"Everybody's faces just lit up when they were singing," Brown said. Charlotte's solo on gospel singer Ray Bolts' "Thank You for Giving to the Lord" was particularly moving, he added.
"That's the one that usually gets everybody," he said. "Emotions start going and tears start coming out."
"She touches a lot of spirits when she sings," said Audrey Brown, Charlotte's mother. "They say she has a glowing light around her. When she smiles you can see the beam of light coming out of her."
Since September, the Glitter Girls have performed at many venues, Brown said, including the Tlingit-Haida Central Council Christmas luncheon, local churches and the elders' holiday luncheon in Hoonah.
Their performance is "exceptional," said the Rev. Richard Green of the Glacier Valley Church of God. The Glitter Girls - one of several youth and teen groups that perform for the congregation - "sing with tremendous feeling," he said.
"They reach the hearts of the people," Green said. "They really put everything they have into it."
Charlotte said she's loved singing "for a long time." Recorded music fills her family's living room and she sings along almost unconsciously, sometimes pointing out her favorite songs.
When the Glitter Girls perform, people tell her, "You have a very good voice," she said with a smile. "And, 'Good job. Very, very good job.' "
"It does keep her spirits up," said Audrey Brown. "I was glad she picked up her singing again. That was one thing that was taken away."
In December 2001, Charlotte was paralyzed in a multi-vehicle accident on Egan Drive. Thrown from her family's car after it slid on the icy road into a ditch, she was hit by another car that skidded off the highway. The accident severed her spinal cord. She spent months recovering in Seattle before returning to Juneau last February.
The family's adjustments are continuing, Jason and Audrey agreed. From small details - they had to rip out the carpeting in their home to accommodate Charlotte's wheelchair - to the large shifts in school and home routines, they're working through it as best they can.
"I think we were always close together, but this just opened the doors for new things for us," Audrey Brown said. Charlotte "was pretty independent before and she can be again."
The Glitter Girls are a nonprofit group, Jason Brown said. They undertake fund-raising efforts such as bake sales and selling tickets to pay for costumes and jackets, and are always looking for more opportunities to perform.
"We want it to be a continuing thing," Jason Brown said. "We want to travel and we want to sing and we want to bring inspiration into people's lives that need it."
Charlotte's recovery is a continuing process and music helps, he added.
"There's a lot of people that helped out Charlotte getting better," he said. "It's not just a one-time thing. It's an ongoing thing that needs to continue. That's why we started this group."
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