WEST WINDSOR — A rising star performed for a packed house at Kelsey Theater last weekend during a benefit concert for a Trenton non-profit group.
Madeline Smith, a 16-year-old from Somerset and recent Disney American Idol Experience winner, has only been singing professionally for one year.
Smith's parents recognized her talents at an early age, but initially deterred their daughter's pursuit of a singing career fearing it would distract Smith from her 12-hours a day home school curriculum, according to Smith's website.
But, after witnessing a crowd's reaction during their daughter's tryout for their church worship team, Smith's parents relented and are now her biggest supporters.
Smith says she is often asked to use her talent to support good causes.
"I don't know how it came about, but a lot of people started asking me to do benefit concerts," said Smith. "All the concerts that I've done have been for wonderful charities."
Saturday's concert benefitted Families in Transition, an organization that has aided families on the brink of homelessness since 1994.
FIT hosts a couple of concerts a year to raise money, according to Bruce Wadzeck, an FIT case worker.
"[Smith] is a sweet girl from a good, Christian family," said Wadzeck. "When she heard about our benefit, she said she'd like to help out, and we're really glad she did."
FIT President Andy Pratt predicted the event would raise $3,000 through ticket sales and a silent auction that included jewelry, gift certificates and a week at the Jersey Shore.
"Every dime goes back into maintaining our homes," said Pratt.
The organization, which owns two homes in Trenton, houses families from six months to four to five years. During that time, family members receive counseling, education, parenting and work skills.
"A single mother with four children was willing to work but had no high school education," said Wadzeck. "So, we helped her get her GED and now she's a certified nursing assistant."
Wadzeck says FIT works to create a very stable environment for children.
Every summer, FIT takes the kids to a summer camp. It takes kids "out of the high stress urban area to the country," according to Pratt.
"Our organization has a profound influence on the kids," said Pratt. "We give them hope, stability — a chance of a better lifestyle."
Next up for Smith is a performance at Canal Fest in October, and this winter, she plans to record her first EP.
Smith, who found it difficult to speak up in public as a child, says people are surprised to hear she isn't nervous about performing on a stage.
"If I'm on stage and I'm speaking, it's not what I want," jokes Smith. "But, if I'm on stage singing, I don't know — it's like I'm at home. "