When Jacie Sites opened her music shop in 2004, students from the nearby elementary school would often come by to check out the instruments and listen to music. A few children asked if they could learn to play, but none of them had the money for lessons. "I just didn't think it was fair that some kids couldn't learn because they couldn't afford it," says Sites, who studied the violin in college and now teaches and plays professionally.
So she asked the violin instructors at her store in Idaho Falls to offer free group lessons. To spread the word, Sites and her husband, Joe, performed at school assemblies. The program, which she called Strings for Kids, quickly outgrew the shop, so Sites organized lessons at the nearby school.
Since Strings for Kids serves children from low-income families, kids must qualify for the free or reduced-lunch program to be eligible for lessons. To apply, they submit a teacher recommendation and an essay. Once enrolled, each child receives her own violin, music stand, and books.
Twelve-year-old Janel Cortes has participated for the past two years. "I wanted to play the violin, but we didn't have the money," says Janel. "When I learned about Strings for Kids, I said, 'This is my chance.' " Janel's mother, Kaylene, couldn't be happier. "I think it's awesome," she says. "The kids are exposed to classical music and also learn about structure and discipline."
Sites has seen many children like Janel blossom in the program, which has now expanded to three more local elementaries. "When we put on recitals, the kids introduce their pieces and play all by themselves in front of an audience. It's very empowering." Kids also make new friends. "Some students even go over to one another's houses to practice together," she says. "Music gives them a common ground."
The Idaho Falls community has embraced Strings for Kids, and the group's annual fundraising concert almost always sells out. With that support, Sites has been able to teach more than 400 students to play. "Music helps kids express themselves and boosts their self-esteem," she says. "We hope that they continue to play and grow, and that the music lives on."
Contact schools or music teachers in your area to see if they accept donations. You can also donate to Strings for Kids directly at stringsforkids.org or visit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation (vh1savethemusic.com) to help more kids have access to music.
Know a woman who goes the extra mile for her community or the world? Nominate her for our Difference-Makers Contest at LHJ.com/differencemakers.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2011.