Noel sisters fondly recall their 'Up With People' year

Noel sisters fondly recall their 'Up With People' year

Sisters, from left, Charlene (Noel) Soucy, Cheryl (Noel) Precopio and Christina D. Noel all traveled for a year with "Up With People" and are still involved with the organization. "Up With People" visits Cumberland High School next weekend, Aug. 29 and 30, for two 7 p.m. shows. Advance tickets are $15 at the Soucy Insurance Agency, and WOON radio. (Valley Breeze Photo by Paul R. Dubois)

WOONSOCKET - Her "Up With People" host family gave her a tour of their humble home in Panama.

"They were really poor, but wanted to serve as a host family for "Up With People,'" said Christina Noel. "The only problem was they did not speak English and I didn't know a word of Spanish, and when they took me to the back yard, they showed me a hammock. I was thinking, Oh my God, is that where I'm going to sleep?"

It wasn't. Despite their lack of resources, the family provided her with a bed and other essentials, and armed with a Spanish-English dictionary, they all found a way to communicate.

"Actually, it was one of the better experiences that I had because those people were so nice," said Noel.

She is one of three Noel sisters, daughters of Gerry and Claire Noel of Woonsocket, to have toured with "Up With People" for a year. Her older sisters, Charlene and Cheryl, had been part of casts from several years earlier when they all lived in Woonsocket.

"Up With People" first visited Woonsocket in 1982 and made a huge local impression. By the next year, Bob Riel and Tina Liard became the first two city residents to join and tour with the organization.

You might say Woonsocket "adopted" "Up With People," which began making annual visits, and a group called the Spirit Express was formed specifically to raise money to assist young people to come up with the $7,500 tuition to join.

In 1986, Charlene and Cheryl interviewed for "Up With People," were selected, and flew to Tucson, Ariz., where Up With People is headquartered. They were placed in separate casts, both singers.

"We participated in the Spirit Express fund-raisers for a year," said Charlene.

She was a senior at Rhode Island College and her sister Cheryl, a sophomore at the same school. Both decided to stall their college educations for a year to take advantage of the "Up With People" opportunity. Four years later, Christina followed their footsteps.

"When I flew out to Tucson, it was the very first time that I had ever been on a plane," said Christina. "I was nervous for a bit, but then I started thinking about all the things that I would be doing with "Up With People" and I just kept getting more and more excited."

Between them, the girls traveled and performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, Holland, Panama, Belgium and Scandinavia.

They performed with national acts, and Charlene performed with Lionel Cole, a nephew of the legendary Nat King Cole. Cheryl and her cast performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"'Up With People' casts don't just perform, but do community service in communities they visit," said Cheryl. "We were up at around 4 a.m. for the Macy's parade, and after the parade, we all went to a soup kitchen and served Thanksgiving meals. It was a gratifying experience."

"Up With People" was founded 49 years ago in Tucson by Blanton Belk, who envisioned using touring performing groups of young people to promote world harmony. The group is not affiliated with any religious or political entities.

"The mission is still the same today as it was nearly 50 years ago, having young people from different countries learn about each other and promoting peace," said Christina. "It's about learning that no matter what our backgrounds or cultures, we're more alike than different."

All three remain in touch with members of their former casts, particularly through social media, where virtually every cast from prior years has a home page on Facebook. There are 94 members from Charlene's cast of 120 listed on their home page.

"What's really neat is to keep tabs on the people we toured with for a year, especially since most of them are really involved in their home communities," said Charlene. "When we toured, we had to write letters to stay in touch with our families. Today, it's much easier with social media and cell phones."

"Up With People" was last in this area in 2007, and Charlene hosted cast members.

"That was really different because I got to see what it was like on the other side," she said. "One of the best memories of 'Up With People' was the host families and how wonderful they were. We learned a lot from them."

Cheryl added that the host families ranged from those living near or in poverty, to homes where families had a full-time cook and wait staff.

All three women remain in touch with several of their host families and with "Up With People." All are members of the Alumni Association, and Christina is on the Alumni Board of Directors, a volunteer task that has her traveling three times annually.

"We're really excited about next year because that will be 'Up With People's' 50th anniversary and also the 25th anniversary of my cast," said Christina, who works as a media specialist. "There will be reunions and all kinds of special events taking place."

Charlene is now married to David Soucy, owner of the Soucy Insurance Agency, and is immersed in volunteer work, as well as keeping up to the couple's two sons, Spencer and Peter. Spencer just completed a stint performing at the Stadium Theatre in "Forever Plaid," and is a junior at the University of Rhode Island. Peter is a senior at Mount St. Charles Academy.

Cheryl Precopio, a Realtor in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts with Prudential Page Realty, also has two children, daughters Lauren, 19, a sophomore at Providence College, and Haley, 16, a sophomore at Bishop Feehan High School. Christina is single and a public relations specialist living in Woonsocket.

While the women have experienced three decades of the ups and downs of life, they all agree that the year spent traveling with "Up With People" was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

"Up With People" will be performing at the Cumberland High School Wellness Center on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 29 and 30, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, and are on sale in Woonsocket at The Soucy Agency on Rathbun Street, and WOON radio on Park Avenue. Tickets will be $20 at the door.

Comments

Hey Northern Rhode Islanders - homes for 20 Up with People cast members are still needed. They arrive on Monday, September 25 and stay for one week. Hosting is simple, provide a place to sleep, breakfast and dinner, drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the evening. THEN you'll get 2 complimentary tickets to the show! Contact Elena Dacomba Martinez if you're interested in hosting: 720.391.7019 or edacomba@upwithpeople.org. Want to get tickets online: www.upwithpeople.org/NorthernRI.