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New York City
October 2002

The Transforming Power of Music and Art
by Matilda Raffa Cuomo

Since 1995, as an after-school mentoring program, Mentoring USA has supplemented the classroom activities by developing partnerships in the fields of music and the arts.

Through the years, Mentoring USA has continued to network with various artists, musicians, and dancers. Last year, we staged performances for the youth at various mentoring sites in conjunction with Musician’s Local 802, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS,) Marie-Christine Giordano Dance Company, and the children’s music group, Caddywampus, to name a few. These partnerships enhance the lives of our mentees in many important ways.

In addition to the wonderful exposure and enjoyment of the arts, a completed artistic project can have a very therapeutic effect for a youth who may have never created anything positive before. Children who are not necessarily the best students enjoy finding an outlet for their other talents, and then self-esteem blossoms.

Mentoring USA continues its legacy as a high school dropout prevention program. Mentors can help children to work on the many skills that they will need to succeed in school using a variety of arts-based delivery methods. For example, writing projects need not take on just essay formats–mentors and youth can work together on screenwriting, TV sitcom writing, poetry, short stories and plays.

Mentoring USA is reaching out to the arts community to take part in our new BRAVE Juliana program, which uses basic mentoring concepts combined with books about multi-cultural awareness and conflict resolution activities to help strengthen children’s connections to their own heritage and develop respect for other cultures.

This year, with funding from the Juliana Valentine McCourt Children’s Education fund, we will be bringing two art and music–based interactive workshops for mentors and mentees at each of our sixty sites throughout the five boroughs. We are planning already the following activities for the fall:

Creating books under the direction of a children’s art therapist; assembling identity collages from magazines and personal photos; photography workshops in and around mentees’ neighborhoods; conflict resolution role-plays; children’s yoga, designed to teach relaxing breathing and de-escalation techniques; African drumming workshops; attending a concert; familiarizing the children with different instruments and music rhythms.

BRAVE Juliana activities encourage youth to learn about New York City’s diverse cultures and sub-cultures, with their unique traditions and languages. The mentees who absorb this knowledge of their own heritage and traditions and learning about their communities are able to create songs, dances, or poetry. In fact, some of these youth projects will be performed at our BRAVE Juliana World’s Fair on October 19.

Mentoring USA has entered into a partnership with a new local nonprofit, City at Peace, Inc., the only national performing arts program for youth and social change. This program auditions youth ages 13–19 every September to take part in an entirely youth-produced dramatic production. Some of our mentors and mentees attended the New York premier performances on June 28-30 at The Public Theater, and we hope that this year some of our mentees will be featured in the production! An ancillary benefit is that exposure to the arts helps older youth to contemplate future careers which they may never have considered.

In the past few years, the idea of involving at-risk youth in the arts has been gaining momentum. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to use art programs to steer at-risk youth away from crime and delinquency. Many advocates who help at-risk youth believe that the arts give youth a positive outlet for their ideas and talents, so they can create instead of destroy. We consider music and art-based programs as opportunities to offer our young people an understanding of team spirit and a forum to work out their problems without conflict.

The children that we reach through mentoring represent our future leadership. Through the generous support of those in the arts community who care, we introduce them to a larger world where they can become productive, contributing members of our society, rather than adding to the criminal or welfare statistics. By offering them new, exciting alternatives as participants in our BRAVE Juliana program, we make a real difference as we encourage our mentees to use their creative energies for positive social change.#

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is Founder and Chairperson, Mentoring USA.


City, State:

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.


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