Dresner Foundation supports kids at CMS-D

Grant makes music lessons and summer camp possible for Detroit youth.

Reuben Romero, with his grandson Daniel, partners with the MSU Community Music School-Detroit, by providing transportation to kids participating in music programs.
Young string beginners on the day of their recital.

On Saturday mornings at least 30 weeks a year, Reuben Romero or his brother Raul Romero will get up early and get behind the wheel of a 17-person passenger van, and make a circuitous route through Southwest Detroit. Along the way, these volunteers stop at the homes of about 12 children and teens, offering them free “shuttle service” to music lessons and camps at the MSU Community Music School-Detroit.

“I think kids should learn music, but sometimes it’s hard for them to afford it or even get to their lessons,” says Reuben. “We try to help by providing transportation to those kids who might be in that situation.”

The Romero brothers grew up in Southwest Detroit—an area of historically Hispanic neighborhoods and strong community pride. He says music was something that helped him get off streets as a kid, and gave him a way to pour his emotion into a guitar. For more than 30 years, Romero has coordinated the annual Rubo Fest near his home through his nonprofit Rubo’s Music Solutions. Alongside other community groups and MSU’s CMS-D, Romero is committed to persuading neighborhood children to pick up instruments and learn to play.

“I’m trying to get as many kids as I can involved in music,” he says. “We say guitars instead of guns. Helping out the Community Music School is another way we can help get kids into music and away from violence and other things.”

The Aspiring Musicians Program, for students ages 9 to 17, provides a solid foundation for musical development. Here the AMP Concert Band is led by conductor Tyson Haynes.
Community Music School - Detroit students Neamiah and Ricardo during one of their guitar classes.
The legacy of Vera and Joseph Dresner lives on through the philanthropic efforts made by the Dresner Foundation.

A gift of music, a gift of time

Romero and his brother are among a half dozen community partners collaborating with CMS-D to provide children access to music learning programs through support from the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation. In 2017, CMS-D received a $40,000 grant from the Dresner Foundation to provide tuition-free music lessons to Detroit youth from neighborhoods where music education in unavailable or unaffordable.

To date, the grant has enabled CMS-D to provide lessons and summer music camp experiences for more than 100 children. Student enrollment takes place through community partner locations like Romero’s nonprofit, as well as organizations like the Highland Park Recreation Center and the Detroit Entertainment Commission led by District 1 Councilman James Tate and Commission Chair Lola George, Detroit Edison Public Schools Academies, and the Love Walk Social Café.

Jill Woodward, director of the CMS-D, says The Dresner Foundation grant allows the school to connect Detroit’s musical culture with a new generation of musicians, music teachers and music-lovers.

“We’re grateful to The Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation for recognizing the benefits of music and for supporting the musical development of Detroit youth,” says Woodward. “Music study is proven to jumpstart youth achievement and Detroit kids deserve access to this valuable curriculum.”

Defying circumstance

Joseph and Vera Dresner believed no child should be limited by circumstances—financial, medical or otherwise. To support that belief, the West Bloomfield couple established a foundation that helps underserved or special needs children access programs and activities that can enrich their lives and potential. Among programs focused on health, youth and family and animal welfare are those in the arts and music.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for a significant number of Detroit children and youth to begin their musical journey,” says Virginia Romano, the foundation’s executive director. “The Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation is pleased to support the MSU Community Music School-Detroit program.”

CMS-D launched in 2009 and provides affordable music education to urban youth. The school’s programs and camps fill a unique niche in the changing musical landscape of public schools. In fewer than 10 years, the school has become the largest provider of subsidized, sequential music lessons for Detroit children outside their regular school days.

Woodward says grants like those through The Dresner Foundation break down financial barriers that can stand in the way for Detroit area youth. The average cost of music lessons for a year, Woodward says, can be around $550. Renting instruments can also be around $30 a month. The grant from The Dresner Foundation covers costs of lessons for a substantial number of youth. Students who need an instrument can use one through the CMS-D “instrument library” free-of-charge.

Community partners also make it possible to recruit students, provide transportation, and sustain the momentum as the grant enters its second year. Because of the combined efforts and generosity, Woodward anticipates even more children becoming interested in music, participating in programs through CMS-D, and building the foundation for future activities through their communities or schools.

“Music is a journey. Once you have it in your life, you have it forever,” says Woodward. “We want all the kids who have discovered music because of the generosity of The Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation to continue to build on the skills they learn here.”

For more information on how The Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation is changing lives through their grant to the MSU Community Music School-Detroit, or to get involved as a community partner, contact Jill Woodward at cmsd@msu.edu or call 313-578-9716.  A video about the Aspiring Musicians Program at the MSU Community Music School- Detroit can be viewed here.

Aspiring Musicians Program strings instructors Natalie Frakes and Ashley Nelson lead students at the MSU Community Music School - Detroit.

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