by Pat Donica –

Beethoven said that music can change the world. It’s the universal language. And the people at Kids in a New Groove (KING) are using the marvelous properties and effects of music to benefit children in need. On January 16, nine Seeds of Strength members visited KING, which became a first-time SoS grantee in May 2019 with a $20,000 grant to expand their Georgetown program providing free music lessons to kids in foster care.

During our site visit, we met with KING Executive Director Laura Wood, Program Manager Sarah Wauters, Program Coordinator Aaron Bynum, and Community Engagement Coordinator Brian Wolff. Each person took us through the various aspects of KING.

KING has been providing private music lessons to Central Texas foster children since 2009. Music lessons and materials are free. Lessons are one-on-one and in-home, so transportation is not an issue. Lessons are available to all youth in foster care for ages 5 to 22. KING reaches prospective students through referrals, with word spread through the foster system, Child Protective Services, CASA, family court judges, child-placement agencies and other partners.

Students are loaned the instruments at no cost. The range of instruments taught is, well, everything – keyboards, voice, horns, strings, drums, even cello – and are often donated by generous people in the community. Students are encouraged to build life-skills by setting goals and working towards rewards: stickers, certificates, instrument accessories, or after 10 to 12 months, going on a trip to pick out their own new instrument through a partnership with Austin’s Strait Music. KING also holds workshops, like songwriting and career-inspiring radio station tours, and hosts student concerts, like those to be held this summer at the Sun City Farmers Market and Georgetown Farmers Market.

Lessons are given by Music Mentors, volunteer musicians of all ages. Mentors need not have previous musical education training; they just need a desire to share their skills with children in need. KING matches mentors with students depending on age, location, gender preference and experience. Mentors stay with students even if the foster care system moves the child around; and mentors can even stay with the student after adoption, lending support to kids going through yet another kind of transition.

KING is making a difference in these students’ lives:

– A sweet 6-year old, ready to quit late in her first year, almost at the point of her big reward (who really likes to practice?), changed tunes when she realized that meant her music mentor would no longer be able to come by! Practice picked up.

– A foster parent, sharing observations with KING, spoke about her foster son’s growth: more eye-contact, more communication, more confidence.

– A foster dad told KING how the songwriting workshop helped his foster son express his feelings dramatically differently now that he was writing songs, carrying his songwriting notebook everywhere.

– We watched a short video with a young beginner keyboardist performing at a recent KING concert. That look of accomplishment on her face when she finished her duet with her mentor? Priceless.

– Statewide, fewer than 50% of foster children graduate high school; 100% of KING’s eligible high school seniors have graduated.

Our grant to KING is especially timely. In August 2018 there were 38 foster children in Georgetown. Because of our growing population and the state’s focus over the last five years on keeping kids in their local area, the number of foster children as of December 2019 has grown to 103.

Among the many trials facing these children are the on-average six times they change foster homes. KING provides an important component towards their well-being during unsettled times in their lives. In the words of a KING Music Mentor, music is “a path for our soul when life becomes too challenging.” Our SoS grant gives kids who are journeying down winding roads the gift of music to help them find their way. That’s the best tune ever.