A student-led organization is striking a chord with Chapel Hill-Carrboro youth.
Musical Empowerment, a UNC music program, connects economically-disadvantaged children with student volunteers for free music lessons.
Launched in 2002 under the name “Carolina Music Outreach,” Musical Empowerment has grown considerably since its inception.
The program now boasts more than 100 student teachers for lessons Monday through Friday at the University United Methodist Church.
Connor Davis, a UNC student volunteer and co-president of Musical Empowerment, said the organization’s strength lies in its commitment to mentorship.
“It’s a really great experience because it’s more than just music lessons. It’s about teachers and students,” Davis said. “So, while we are teaching music lessons, we also take that time to talk to the students and see how their days are going.”
Musical Empowerment is housed in the Social Innovation Incubator Center at the Campus Y. Mathilde Verdier, program coordinator for the Social Innovation Incubator Program, said Musical Empowerment is not just about musical education.
“The impact goes far beyond,” she said. “They’re giving these children the confidence, inspiration and focus to succeed later in life.”
Kaitlyn Hamlett, co-president of Musical Empowerment, said the program presents students with an opportunity that they might not otherwise have as most cannot afford private lessons.
“I taught a brother and sister music lessons, and the girl was particularly talented,” Hamlett said. “It would’ve been a shame if she hadn’t had the opportunity — would have missed out on a great talent.”
In addition to private lessons, Musical Empowerment also offers a musical instrument lending program, which lends instruments to students for the school year in exchange for $10 monthly installments. The security deposits are then refunded at the end of the school year when the instrument is returned.
The program’s mission to offset differential access to music education has earned it non-profit status, a cache of grants and residency in the CUBE Social Innovation Incubator, as well as partnerships with Carolina Performing Arts and most recently, the music department.
“The music department will house some of our music lessons in the future as well as providing space for meetings and connecting with music faculty when we workshop on how to teach music,” said Katie Weinel, a UNC alumna and former co-president of Musical Empowerment.
Weinel also said that the long-term goal for Musical Empowerment is to provincially expand, but the focus is on solidifying the UNC model.
If the organization’s standing-room only benefit concert last April is any indication, then Musical Empowerment shows great promise. The concert featured student performers, as well as Scott Avett, Joe Kwon and Joe Defiglia of the Grammy-nominated Avett Brothers.
“I was just stunned and unbelievingly excited that so many people had come to support what we’re doing and come to enjoy music and were supportive of the kids of our program,” Weinel said.
“It was a wonderful moment.”
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