Instruments 4 Life: Taking kids from Hot Cross Buns to empowerment

Each week, the 75+ children in Instruments 4 Life classes strum the ukulele or guitar; keyboard players find delight in reading music and tapping out the correct notes. Cue the earplugs and rocker references: Percussion is slated for introduction in 2020. No matter the instrument, from Hot Cross Buns to empowerment is the goal of Instruments 4 Life, the Tampa Bay nonprofit that uses music lessons and instrument donations to mentor youth.

“We know how powerful music is to kids’ academic and emotional development, and also that, unfortunately, the school systems have stripped this from today’s curriculum,” says David Diaz, a founder of Instruments 4 Life.

Diaz, Todd Nanni, and Dane Gilbert, friends and fellow musicians, saw a gaping need for musical education in 2011 and created Instruments 4 Life to address the gap. The program works through partnerships with different organizations; each class is tailored for the location’s specific needs.

In the past, foster homes such as Joshua House have participated, as well as after school centers such as Prodigy and organizations such as The Children’s Cancer Center and Redefining Refuge. Currently, most lessons occur through the Dream Center of Ybor and The City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department at multiple locations.

“We are trying to make sure that kids, especially those in underserved areas, have access to music education and all of the benefits that come with it,” Diaz says.

Empowerment doesn’t end with music mastery; once program participants go through a series of progressive beginner lessons, they are invited back to mentor the next group of beginners. This teaching model empowers them to learn leadership and communication skills -- and to perfect what they learned during their own instruction.

As a reward for successful program completion, children are given their own instrument to keep. That lifelong gift requires funding, and Instruments 4 Life staff hope to connect with more corporate and individual donors who can sponsor a child or class. Diaz sees firsthand how impactful the gift can be.

“We have had previously delinquent kids fall in love with music and return to school and end up graduating,” he says. “We have seen kids re-wire their brains for the positive and set them up on a greater path to success for the future.”

Kids can join classes for free when attending any of the participating community centers. To request classes at a different center, inquire about donor opportunities or volunteer, contact Instruments 4 Life here.

For more information, visit the Instruments for Life website.
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