Using music to transform children’s lives
Mix the gift of music with a passion for teaching and a desire to help young children and you’ve got magic. In this case the magic is “Gibson Kids Rock,” a weekly music program at Haven Academy Charter School in the Bronx. The volunteer program was created in the fall of 2008 by volunteers Nefertiti Jones and Jimi K. Bones, who have a pop-rock band called Jonesbones. Bones is also a full time musician who has toured with Blondie, Joan Jett, Enrique Iglesias and Kix and has played guitar for Monday Night Football for the past 12 years.
Gibson Kids Rock is part of Haven Academy’s after school program. The school is sponsored by The New York Foundling, one of the city’s oldest and largest child welfare agencies, established in 1869. “We provide or oversee foster care to over 1,200 children in NYC as well as preventive services to approximately 800 families on any given day,” explains Bill Baccaglini, executive director of The Foundling.
Baccaglini was full of praise for the couple. “Nef and Jimmy are the warmest people you can imagine. Their approach is very therapeutic. They wrap themselves around these kids, allowing them to let down their guard and open up to new ideas.”
The idea of Gibson Kids Rock was hatched when Jones, a freelance-casting director at House Production and Strickman-Ripps, was seeking a way to work in the community,
On meeting Alan Shatz, director of New York Foundling volunteers, he said, “Why don’t you start a music program?” she recalls.
“I was awestruck, a little sensitive and scared!” Despite her hesitation, it appears that all the stars were aligned. Jones contacted Gibson Guitars (resulting in the name Gibson Kids Rock) who donated nine guitars and one piano and the program was up and running.
Gibson Kids Rock teaches kids in 1st through 8th grade to sing, play guitar and write songs that range from rock, pop and hip hop to rhythm and blues. In the past two years, the children have performed eight times, including a benefit concert at Crash Mansion, two performances at the Bitter End and one at The Foundling’s 140th anniversary Homecoming at the Yale Club.
“Without this program, these kids, many of whom come from low income families as well as the foster care system, would most likely never have had the chance to pick up an instrument, learn how to sing, record and perform,” says Jones, who grew up in New York’s “Alphabet City.”
Jones was introduced to music at age nine through the Children’s Musical Theatre Group in her neighborhood. “It kept me focused and brought me a lot of joy,” she says, adding that her teachers at both the Theatre Group and LaGuardia High School had a life-altering impact on her.
Jones is equally enchanted with Haven Academy. “It’s a success largely because of its innovative, cutting edge approach to teaching.” Due to the unique challenges that many of the children face, the principal and teachers have created an extraordinary curriculum that includes yoga, Pilates, dance and music, as well as a rigorous academic program.
Jones says, “When you are dealing with at risk kids you don’t want to do the ordinary, you need to do the extraordinary — this shows them a world outside of poverty.”
This fall the school opened a state-of-the art recording facility and music room, decked out with museum quality décor including CD covers on one wall, guitars on another, made possible with monies raised at a fundraiser for the school last December.
“It’s the music room that every kid dreams of,” says Jones, explaining that the goal is to teach the children every aspect of the music business.
“Our hope is that, through our program, the children will build up their confidence and self respect. It takes a lot of guts to perform. These young kids really sing out, they move on stage, they deliver in front of big audiences,” she adds. “Whether they choose a path in music or not, the skills they learn will help them in all facets of life.”
“The city is ecstatic about the model that we are using at Haven Academy that integrates academics with social services,” says Baccaglini. At the end of the day if we do this right, we’ll all be winners and most importantly, the kids will be winners.”
For more information, call (212) 8864036 or visit www.nyfoundling.org and www.jonesbonesproductions.com.
Nefertiti Jones works with 1st through 8th graders at “Gibson Kids Rock,” a weekly music program at Haven Academy Charter School.