Stacey Sands: Social Justice Champion

As a little girl at Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Northern Kentucky, Stacey Sands began singing in the church choir. Her parents thought of this as just one more fun activity for their little first grader to enjoy until the Choir Director called to ask for their permission to have Stacey sing “Away in the Manger” as a solo in the Advent pageant. The Director also asked whether it would be okay to feature Stacey’s solo in the Christmas Eve service. It was that conversation that confirmed for her parents that singing was more than a fun hobby for Stacey; it was her calling. And, it inextricably tied her church and music lives together – a theme that continues to this day.

Her parents fostered little Stacey’s love of music, buying her a piano and enrolling her in lessons, and soon her teachers at Collins Elementary in Florence, Kentucky, also recognized her musical talent, giving her leading roles in school performances. By middle school, Stacey had begun studying and performing music in more professional circles through University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), and eventually the MayFestival Youth Chorus,  further solidifying her future in music. After high school, Stacey attended Depauw University in Indiana for her undergraduate studies in vocal performance, and eventually came home to Cincinnati where she earned her Master’s degree in Music from CCM.

Soon, she found love. Stacey reconnected with high school classmate Zach Neiheisel in 2011, and as their relationship evolved, her grandfather grew to “adopt” Zach as one of his own grandchildren. When the couple decided to marry, it was a given that Grandpa would be a part of the ceremony, but his health was deteriorating and they weren’t sure how much longer he would be with them. They knew what needed to happen. After a brief week-long engagement, Stacey and Zach were officially married in a very small ceremony at her grandfather’s house, where he was receiving hospice care. Just two days after blessing his youngest grandchild at her wedding, Stacey’s grandfather sadly passed away.

Stacey and Zach celebrated their wedding for their entire circle of family and friends a year later in a grand reception at the Leaping Lizard in Covington. The couple now lives happily in Northern Kentucky with their three cats and one dog – all rescues. And coming to the rescue of those in need is just Stacey’s style.

Compassion for those who are struggling is a driving force in Stacey’s life. She is involved in a number of social justice organizations that bring people together to bridge gaps and lift up communities, including Kids for Peace, where she serves as a board member. She is also involved with Footcare for the Souls, which provides pedicures, massages, and clean shoes and socks for the homeless and working poor in Cincinnati. She is also active with Habitat for Humanity, tackling homelessness one house at a time. Stacey also finds meaning in participating in the conversations around race and work for racial justice and is a part of the Becoming Beloved Community initiative in the Episcopal church.  Perhaps the most impactful volunteer service she has performed was with the 5000 Club at Christ Church Cathedral, which serves a weekly evening meal to those who are homeless or underemployed in downtown Cincinnati.

While serving as a cantor during a 5000 Club meal, one of the guests began to sing along with her. The event sparked an idea – Stacey would start a choir to feature the talents of the Queen City’s homeless population during each Tuesday night meal service! It was at these services that Stacey met Mr. Kenny Martin, a homeless man battling addiction and mental health struggles who was a regular patron of Christ Church Cathedral’s weekly meals and choir performances. Despite his situation and personal needs, Kenny was known for his willingness to help and serve those around him. Tragically, Mr. Martin passed away from exposure in downtown Cincinnati the day after Christmas in 2017, and his death has brought awareness to the needs of the city’s homeless population through multiple marches and vigils. Kenny’s tragic passing marked the beginning of Stacey’s involvement with Maslow’s Army, a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the basic needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati.

Clearly, social justice is a passion for Stacey, who can personally relate to those struggling with mental health. She has channeled all of this energy into her calling, and made it official in June 2020 by becoming an ordained Deacon in the Episcopal Church. To this day, music and church go hand-in-hand for Stacey, and the Vocal Arts Ensemble is honored to have such a compassionate and talented musician among our ranks.

Get to know Stacey better by listening to her Spotify playlist here.