MELANIE MINTY: All Access: The gift of music education warms my heart

Arts columnist's family donates to foundation as gift

Elka Yarlowe runs the Access to Music Foundation

SURREY — Judging by the amount of activity at the malls and other shopping areas, most of us are gift-giving this time of year – for different reasons, of course, but mostly for the traditional gift exchange associated with Christmas. I don’t know if you celebrate Christmas, but it is certain that at this time of year, a lot of gifts get wrapped and ready for distribution to friends and family.

Christmas shopping can be a time-consuming and demanding job. Find the perfect (but practical) gift and stay within your budget. Personally, I hate buying something just because a gift is required. I like it to be personal, useful and somehow make a difference. Last year, we decided as an extended family that giving a gift to each adult was not necessary. We decided to form an informal foundation and donate what we might spend on the adult gifts – six of us in all – and donate to a charity.

As a family, we all come together to decide on a charity. This year, Access To Music Foundation was selected. Elka Yarlowe, the organization’s only paid staff member, was ecstatic to receive our donation this year. We asked that our donation be directed to the foundation’s Instrument Program. Funds are used to purchase music instruments for kids who can’t afford the rental fee, but want to join the school band.

“The Instrument Program has been at the core of our activities since 2007,” Yarlowe explained. “What started then as a single donation to one school band program in Vancouver has grown into a province-wide initiative. Since that time, we have donated over $300,000 worth of instruments to public schools and community centres all over the province, from Delta all the way up to Haida Gwaii.”

And it’s all done on a shoestring budget.

Access to Music is not eligible for government operating grants and so must rely on project grants, foundations and individual donations. Programs have been funded by Vancouver Foundation, Coast Capital Savings, Telus and the Hamber Foundation, as well as some previous funding from BC Arts Council. I was so happy that our family committee selected Access to Music for this year’s Christmas gift.

Access to Music is an organization that I had not heard about before. This small but efficient organization has many programs. The songwriting program and the “musician in the classroom” mentor program are just a few of the programs.

“We try our best to fulfill many needs, but concentrate on the neediest schools in communities where we will have the greatest impact,” Yarlowe relates. “Of late, we focus on providing instruments and accessories that schools cannot afford, such as percussion, low brass, larger instruments.”

In the planning stages is a new program in Surrey that involves playing instruments and writing songs, and it targets students who are most inclined to get involved with gang-related activity or have been affected by gangs. Much of the work of Access to Music, including the instrument program, deals not only with the students’ musical education, but also helps them build confidence to make good choices in life.

Music can make a huge difference in any life, any age. We are fortunate indeed that we have a school district in Surrey that believes in the power of music. But everyone needs a little cash gift every now and then. Think about it; maybe you would like to make a gift of music, too.

The Surrey Christmas Bureau gets a lot of help from the community to get gifts to children in need. Both the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society and Surrey Little Theatre collected toys for the organization. And KC Gilroy, the bureau’s co-ordinator, has invited folks from those groups to come to its open house. “I know it’s a very busy time of year, but we are grateful to our donors and sponsors and would like to show our appreciation and show off our toy depot” Gilroy told me.

Through its toy depot, Surrey Christmas Bureau will be helping 1,700 Surrey families this year, representing nearly 4,500 children, who will receive toys, grocery cards, warm clothing and household items.

“We are proud of what we do,” Gilroy relates, “but we also know that it could never happen without your support and contributions.”

That’s a lot of warm-fuzzies, which make the days brighter and better. This is the spirit of Christmas, for sure.

melminty@telus.net

 

 

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