5:25pm Monday, 02.19.2018
This past summer, I was sitting at home when I got a text from my friend Sahna that simply said: “You need to watch this” with a link. A few minutes later, she followed up with: “Did you watch it?” I hadn’t. She tried one more time “It’s my brother’s nonprofit. Please watch it. They are looking for a grant writer.”
At this particular moment of my life, I was indeed looking for a part time job, and I had done some casual grant writing and fundraising over the years for a few other nonprofits. So, I was curious. I clicked the link, which took me to a video. Four minutes later, I was already on board. I immediately emailed Sahna’s brother from MUSICMAKESMUSIC and asked him how I could be their grant writer.
Over the course of my teaching and administrative career, I’ve worked at three different schools and interacted with kids at every middle and high school grade level. During that time, I attended many assemblies with my students. They ranged from a cheesy, anti-bullying magician to a moving, racially-charged one-man play called Coconut.
One of my favorite parts of these assemblies was after when we came back to the classroom and debriefed; this was when I could hear the students’ takeaways from what they just saw. Teenagers have an amazing knack for gauging authenticity. If they sense that someone isn’t real, not only will they call that person out, but they will explain in detail where and how the person lost credibility. Despite what many people think, teenagers are highly intelligent, receptive, and thoughtful. They are open (much more so than most adults) to powerful messages, especially to ones that inspire them to make the most out of their lives. Unfortunately, more often than not, our post-assembly discussions concluded with me listening to all the reasons the students felt manipulated, talked down to, or even insulted by the content of the assembly. And, usually, I agreed with most of the points they made.
This is why seeing the MUSICMAKESMUSIC program has such an impact on me. Finally, here was a school program that was authentic. That had a positive message. That interacted with kids instead of talking down to them. That was inspiring not just to the adults in the room, but to the students. I knew I wanted to get on board as soon as possible.
When I first met with Mike and Nik, I was very excited. It seemed like my previous experiences volunteering for other nonprofits had all led me to this opportunity. Here was a chance to put my experiences with grant writing and fundraising to work in an area for which I had an immense passion: the education of teenagers into well-rounded people with amazing futures.
MUSICMAKESMUSIC is at an exciting point right now. Their school program is a two day assembly that involves a variety of members of the student body in the performance of a rock concert that delivers their core messages to the entire school: Live a drug free life. Continue your educations. Get involved with the arts. This program is completely dialed in and has been refined over the years; it has a proven record of getting results in inspiring teenagers to adopt and pursue the core messages of the program.
However, the goal now is to take that program and get bigger: more states, more schools, more lives changed. There’s only one way to do that: more funding. The MUSICMAKESMUSIC program, with all its equipment, personnel, and travel, has a cost. Some national school assembly programs put that entire cost - which in some cases is thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars - onto schools. Not MUSICMAKESMUSIC. Our governing board and ambasador musicians are determined to provide the program at a minimal cost to schools; this allows any school in the nation, even those in underserved communities, to bring our inspirational message to students. All of this means that fundraising and grant writing are essential elements to get MUSICMAKESMUSIC to the next level.
So, that’s where I come in. So far, we’ve attacked our goals from several areas: Employee matching donation programs, recruitment of new board members, crowdfunding, social media presence, and grant writing. I wish I could say that the money started pouring in over night, but the reality is that it’s a process. A lot of grants and government funding for both the arts and drug prevention programs are tied up in huge block grants that are designed for entire cities or national nonprofits, not for a small group of ambassador musicians in Salt Lake City. However, it’s MUSICMAKESMUSIC’s message and the delivery of that message that has kept me a perennial optimist about the future. I believe in the message. More importantly, I know that teenagers believe in the message. So, I’m going to keep grinding until MUSICMAKESMUSIC is visiting 35-50 schools all across the country every school year and changing tens of thousands of lives along the way.