Music fun at MEND’s Summer Youth Program

Four children sit or wiggle on brightly colored chairs while their volunteer music teacher, Amber Frias, talks about songs for an upcoming concert. One by one the students practice songs on their instruments—a flute, clarinet, saxophone and drums—while Amber offers gentle instruction and support. Giggling is allowed in this class, and the young students seem relaxed, happy and interested in getting better.

It’s just another day in the Summer Youth Program at MEND, where kids’ days are filled with playing music, making art, cooking, taking local trips and having fun in a safe, supportive environment. The summer program classes take place in the Training Center building that was recently renovated with colorful murals and open, well-lighted spaces.

But while kids are learning creative skills, they’re also learning to get along with each other—which for some can be a huge personal leap. It all happens with the help of sensitive, caring volunteer teachers like Amber.

As the young boy playing sax player goes over his part, Amber says, “Do you remember what A sharp is? Just in case, you have the fingering chart right there.”

The boy tries the part again, then beams when he gets the notes right. The other kids clap to show their support.

Amber, 21, works at Wal-Mart from 4:30 am to 10 am, then volunteers at MEND later in the morning, four days each week. She’s mother to a 2-year-old daughter, and a student at Valley College, where she studies child development.

“I love working with kids,” she says. Her music students range in age from 8 to 14 and aside from teaching them classic tunes, she allows them to learn songs from video games. She doesn’t mind their jumping up or making silly jokes. “They’re young and they need to get it out of their systems,” she says with a smile.

Amber is a lifelong musician and enjoys watching kids become more at ease with music—and each other.

“They mean a lot to me,” she says. “They keep growing, and inspiring each other to do better.” She tells of one 11-year-old music student who had the reputation of being a bully. “At first, she did not want to participate,” Amber remembers. But within a week, the girl’s attitude shifted. “It turned out she is super talented and became super nice to everybody.” Asked what caused the turn-around Amber replies: “She feels like she can be herself around me, and she’s not pressured to do anything she doesn’t want to do.”

Another boy who came to Amber class was so shy that he would not speak. Today he happily interacts with other kids. “He’s very encouraging of other students,” says Amber proudly.

Music is one way to show kids the bigger world, and the front wall of Amber’s classroom features photographs of famous musicians. “A lot of the kids have never been introduced to any music,” she says. “These photos show that musicians are real people.”

By Volunteer Nicole Gregory