Us­ing mu­sic to trans­form chil­dren’s lives

New York Daily News - - BIG TOWN BIG HEART -

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.

—Hol­lyRe­ich

Ne­fer­titi Jones works with 1st through 8th graders at “Gib­son Kids Rock,” a weekly mu­sic pro­gram at Haven Academy Char­ter School.

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