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The Institute of Music for Children Pushes Through Pandemic and Gears Up for Summer Camp and Fun

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Institute of Music for Children
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Students at the Institute of Music for Children practicing in Elizabeth, New Jersey

The Institute of Music for Children in Elizabeth, New Jersey has been able to keep its amazing tradition of engaging youth and others in artistic expression and the creative process during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Institute of Music for Children
The non-profit helps more than one-thousand youth every year

Guided by our vision of HARMONY - Helping Achieve Responsible, Motivated, Optimistic Neighborhood Youth – The Institute is building a community of high achieving citizens who are arts lovers and arts makers through professional instruction, mentorship, and family engagement.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
Alysia Souder chats with WBGO's Doug Doyle about the success and legacy of the Institute of Music for Children

Alysia Souder, Executive Director of the Institute of Music for Children, joined WBGO's Doug Doyle via a zoom chat to talk about the challenges the non-profit organization faced during the height of the pandemic and how she handled it.

"It's overwhelming sometimes when you think about it because there's so much going on for us as individuals and then of course so many fears about the organization and the work that we're doing and losing work for our artists and our children. The fact that I've been a part of the arts education community for a long time was really valuable because I could reach out to a lot of many colleagues at other organizations and really start to talk about what are you doing and how do you this and what do we know, so one is reaching out and connecting. The other thing is really taking a little time. We didn't jump. We wanted to just assess the situation. We're a very community-based organization. We have long and deep relationships with our families. We are also committed to providing access to our families and with us we do a wide range of art forms. So we do instrumental music, piano, guitar, drums, violin, but we also do visual and performing arts. We do culinary arts even. So we also wanted to take the time to transition in a way that would be beneficial to all the art forms. Also, safety was a big concern. How are going to make sure kids are safe online and how can we monitor and maintain a community and can still be online? Do our families have enough devices to connect online, do they have internet access? So we did a lot of surveying and talking to our families, especially our high-needs families that we were already aware of. We came together as a staff and really brainstormed and everyone brought in ideas. We were really able to use Zoom and Google Classroom in a way that we could still have a night of classes. I was able to almost keep my entire staff employed."

Souder says each year, the Institute, located at 780 Salem Avenue in Elizabeth, NJ, on the corner of North Avenue and Salem Avenue, provides over 1,000 New Jersey youth with affordable, high-quality arts training in a creative and nurturing environment. The Institute broadens participation in the arts in underserved communities through tuition assistance, bi-lingual staff and promotional materials, and urban outreach initiatives. The Institute is a 5-time recipient of a Citation of Excellence from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (2014-2018).

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Harmony is the vision of The Institute of Music for Children

The Executive Director is super excited this summer.

"We have full-day summer camp, starting at six years old through 16 years old. They rotate through as many as eight different art forms during the day. So you could be at African Drumming one period, then you can go to graphic design next period, then be in young chefs the following period. So it's really an incredible time of exposure and creativity. We will also work on a big original production in the afternoon. We love having high expectations of them and to say you we have time to explore and express but we also have time to learn a discipline, work hard and really commit to a process. COVID times we had to transition to online last summer and so this summer we're doing both. We're going to have a full in-person camp and we're going to have online options for the same ages, so if you're not ready to come back in person, stay with us online."

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Alysia Souder has more than two decades of experience in arts education

One of the things Souder loves about her program is they have positions called youth leaders. Youth leaders are teenagers often come out of our student body who either decide to join the organization or they are recruited.

"They become role models, surrogate brothers and sisters and they become coaches and cheerleaders for our kids. They really create an environment that is supportive, that is individualized, that is heartfelt."

Souder says through the years of success, the Institute of Music for Children is now looking at what's next, a five year plan that could include a replication model or a franchising model.

You can see the chat with Alysia Sounder at https://fb.watch/5XaaSMiEq4/.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.