CEI Grant: Musical Minds!

Musical Minds Community Outreach is a student-driven organization at the University of Toronto that offers free music lessons and mentorship to kids and youth in the Toronto community who may not have the means or opportunity to learn music. Many of our kids come from at-risk communities, and face backgrounds of adversity, poverty, refugee/newcomer status and/or face backgrounds of abuse. Our instructors are volunteer music teachers who are pursuing degrees at the University of Toronto, in a variety of fields in undergraduate degrees and beyond. We are so grateful to have so many years of support from the Centre of Community Partnerships at U of T, where our lessons take place on weekends. We also partner with a breadth of city service organizations, for example United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs and newcomer centres to name a few.

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With the support from the CCP, we were able expand and grow our program. This year we were able to enrol 61 kids and youth, taught by 30 instructors. We understand the valuable role of stability that MMCO can bring on a weekly basis to many at-risk youth. One of the biggest challenges in our program is ensuring kids have an instrument to practice on throughout the year. Among other supports, we were able to purchase more keyboards for use by students whose families are unable to rent or buy instruments. We are also grateful to CCP for supporting our end-of-year recital, which gives our students the chance to showcase their hard work over the year. While learning performance skills is part of any musician’s development; working towards a recital fosters life-long skills such as dedication and goal-setting. Our instructors are positive role models – not only are they talented musicians and community advocates, but are pursuing education in a breadth of fields from music, to business, to mathematics, or chemistry, just to name a few. Through 1:1 mentorship with a youth instructor, students learn not only how to play an instrument, but also foster a variety of other qualities. Qualities that this mentorship fosters includes an enthusiasm for learning, using music as an outlet to encourage positive mental health, building confidence, and also learning about the importance of giving back to our community.

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For our instructors, our program encourages development of leadership skills, communication and teamwork skills, and importantly, community advocacy. These practical, real-world skills are invaluable in complementing an instructor’s classroom education and professional development. By working with diverse socioeconomic and cultural communities in Toronto, our instructors gain a first-hand understanding of the complex socioeconomic and cultural conflicts that arise in their own community. In addition, learning to run an outreach organization is a tremendous opportunity for our leadership team. We have learned that ideal leadership in outreach organizations means staying committed to the organization’s underlying objective with commitment to compassionate and supportive relationships with team members and families. Effective leadership in student outreach organizations also implies planning for the future and sustainability of the organization. Student leaders in our team have the opportunity to engage not only with other fellow students but also university faculty and staff, leaders in the community/city service organizations and families in the community – all of whom come from unique backgrounds and cultures.

The CCP has been a keystone partner to MMCO over the years. Undoubtedly, MMCO would not have grown to the organization it is today, without their amazing support!

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