Music and Mentorship: How an Austin Org Is Helping Foster Kids Survive the System
A former Texas prosecutor saw firsthand how many foster kids got lost in a system that lacked the resources to help them. So she decided to reach out to them herself, one child at a time.
Working as a prosecutor in the juvenile justice system can be a daily lesson in despair, so when Karyn Scott left her job as a felony prosecutor in Austin, Texas, in 2000 she wanted to find some way to work with troubled youth, especially children in foster care. She had grown discouraged watching a parade of foster kids get shuffled through a burdened system, failing to receive the added help many needed to overcome upheaval, neglect and sometimes abuse.
The courts just don’t have the resources to keep up. There are some 400,000 kids in foster care in the United States and about 30,000 in Texas, according to federal and state agencies. About 59 percent eventually are reunited with a parent, legal caretaker or a family member, and only 22 percent are legally adopted, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The rest are left under court supervision or transferred to a variety of agencies, including, unfortunately for a few, juvenile correctional facilities. Some 10 percent are emancipated, given adult status, by the courts and 1 percent run away. During their time in foster care, most children live in family homes, while a small minority are placed in group homes. Many kids bounce in and out of the system.
Scott wanted to find a way to keep children from becoming unmoored as they traveled through the foster care system, a tempestuous journey that can be dispiriting and difficult. She also wanted to offer the courts more resources to address each kid’s particular needs. “They need a consistent friend in their life,” Scott says, especially since their lives are marked by so much volatility — they’re moved often from one care setting to another, disrupting their home and school routines.
Scott’s mission was to create a program that would help encourage bonds with a child or teenager that would last. In 2009, after exploring various programs targeting foster kids, she came up with the idea of using music to ease that connection. Austin, which touts itself in true Texas style as the “live music capital of the world,” seemed like the perfect spot to launch her new initiative: Kids in a New Groove (KING). In its early days, the program, which pairs music teacher-mentors with foster kids in one-on-one relationships, “grew organically,” says Scott, as word spread quickly among Austin’s abundance of music teachers. To date, hundreds of kids have graduated from KING, with 80 children in the program at any one time. KING uses both volunteer and paid teachers — the latter are those who have served with the program over the long haul. One veteran is Missy Hance, who studied music education at West Virginia University, before moving to Austin to teach music to both public- and private-school kids. She’s been teaching and mentoring KING students for more than four years. Working with foster care children requires her to be “more sensitive to their needs,” Hance says, since many of them are “down on themselves and do give up a lot easier.” It’s taught Hance a lot of patience, and led her to explore new methods of instruction and communication to better reach foster kids, many of whom may have been neglected or abused. She says music allows her students “to express emotions that they are not always able to express in words. It gives them a voice.”
The program uses a reward system that offers both stability and motivation. Each student earns stickers as they reach a series of curriculum goals set by their teacher. Achievements are continually reinforced: Five stickers earn a small reward, perhaps a T-shirt. Then, as students progress, the rewards grow larger, and if they complete the program, the ultimate reward — they get their own instrument. “I always push myself and try to get the child to get better,” says Hance. “Foster kids or not, theyʼre kids and they are just like any other kids.”
But the programʼs true success stems from its core element, says Scott — mentoring. KING emphasizes developing each teacherʼs mentoring skills and the cementing of a steady, personal connection between teacher and student. Over time, the kids learn to trust an adult, even though so many grown-ups have failed them in other areas of their lives. That “consistent friend in their life,” as Scott characterizes it, never deserts them, not when the child is adopted, moves on or comes of age and graduates from the program. One student, Anthony (his last name is withheld for privacy), learned to play the guitar during his stay in a group home. He was so enthusiastic that he began teaching his roommates how to play. Eventually Anthony, now 14, was placed in a rural home outside of Austin, but he continued to get lessons from his teacher via Skype. The act of learning an instrument may confer immeasurable benefits too. Research has shown that studying music can rewire the brain in ways that may affect the processing of emotion and self-awareness, which is “why this program works for kids who have been abused,” Scott says. A 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts showed socially and economically disadvantaged children and teenagers exposed to the arts did better both in academic and social development. Studies by the Society for Neuroscience released in 2013 also found that music education helped boost neural pathways in the parts of the brain associated with creativity and decision-making.
One of the programʼs notable graduates is Joshua Moore, a member of the Austin alternative pop band Scarecrow Birdy, which plays in the city’s clubs and, thanks to KING underwriting, recently recorded its first EP. As a child, Moore was in and out of foster care, living in various temporary homes and a shelter while his parents grappled with drug addiction and prison. Moore, a guitar player and songwriter, credits KING for helping him survive his childhood, and has performed at the program’s fundraisers to give back. “Music is not so much expression of life as it is and life as it should be. It’s life as you want it to be,” he told the newspaper Austin American-Statesman in 2012.
Austin’s music community has come out to support KINGʼs efforts wholeheartedly. The organization relies on donations — it holds an annual major fundraiser — to pay for kids’ lessons. A yearʼs worth of instruction for each KING student costs about $1,000. This yearʼs Music for the Soul fundraiser, which will take place on May 1, will headline Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, the founding members of the Dixie Chicks, who now perform as the Court Yard Hounds.
Further down the line, Scott is planning to expand KING’s mentoring-teaching model beyond its current geographic limits — for now, KING works primarily with children in Austin, and also with some in Houston and Dallas. But wherever KING’s future students may come from, Scott has the same aspiration for all of them: using long-term loving relationships to teach them skills like goal setting, accountability and perseverance that will help them navigate the foster care system and life thereafter.
Forever Families: Paul wants mom to watch movies, take care of him
From Austin YNN/ January 2014
Before breaking out into a full Michael Jackson performance at Kids in a New Groove, Paul had a little warm up and music lesson.
The 7-year-old loves to sing and dance, so it makes sense that Michael Jackson is his favorite singer. He knows the words to almost every Michael song and a lot of the moves, too.
“When I first got here I didn’t like Michael Jackson,” Paul said. “When I growed up, I did like Michael Jackson. And I didn’t know the moves, and now I do.”
Paul is a foster child, and he’s looking forward to finding a forever family he can have a good time with.
“I hope I can get a mom,” he said. “So I can buy a movie.”
One of his favorite movies he’d love to take his mom to see is Ninja Turtles – another topic he knows a lot about.
“They are not super heroes. They are Ninja Turtles,” he said.
And no movie is complete without a snack. He likes to watch his movies with popcorn – cheese or sugar popcorn with hot sauce.
“It sounds yummy,” Paul said.
Paul has dreamed up a wonderful life for himself, and that life includes a mom who will love him unconditionally.
“So she can take care of me,” he said.
If you’d like to know more about a child you’ve seen on “Forever Families,” please contact the Adoption Coalition of Texas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Forever Families: Ja’Myren seeks family that will help him grow
From Austin YNN | June 2013
We first introduced you to Ja’Myren last year, but he’s still waiting for his forever home. He hopes he’ll get adopted and experience things he’s never done before.
Someday, Ja’Myren would like to perform piano on a grand stage. But, first comes practice.
He’s never experienced a private music lesson before, but Kids in a New Groove made his first one possible.
Ja’Myren still learning some of the notes, but he’s a fast learner and good at a lot of things. He is on the A-B honor roll and thinks he’d make a great son.
He’s smart and athletic – traits he deserves to be loud and proud about. Instead, he’s a little quiet and timid.
“Sometimes I’m shy,” he said. “If there’s a lot of people, sometimes my legs shake.”
He wasn’t too shy to show me a few chords he picked up on his own.
Ja’Myren hopes he’ll find a family that can teach him even more, and give him the keys to trying new things.
“Picnic, BBQ, birthday party, roller skating,” Ja’Myren said.
Adventures he rarely, if ever, experiences now.
“A foster family, you don’t stay in there very long, and an adoptive family you’re there the rest of your life,” he said.
He’s ready to start the rest of his life. And the thought of having a family of his own is like music to his ears.
Ja’Myren’s favorite subjects are math and science and his favorite sport is ping pong.
If you think you or someone you know has a place for Ja’Myren in your home, please contact the Adoption Coalition of Texas at email@example.com
Teen Band One Direction to Help Raise Money for Youth in Foster Care With “Kicks For Kids” Campaign
In honor of National Foster Care Month, teen band One Direction has donated five pairs of autographed shoes to help raise money for youth in foster care. The shoes will compete in a virtual online race through eBay to raise monies for Kids in a New Groove, a Texas non-profit that serves youth in foster care with music mentorship.
In honor of National Foster Care Month, Kids in a New Groove, a Texas non-profit that seeks to change the lives of children in foster care through music mentorship, is auctioning off five pairs of authentic autographed shoes worn by the sensational teen band One Direction. Each May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity to shine a light on the experiences of the more than 400,000 children and youth in the American foster care system. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the urgent needs of these young people and encourages citizens to become informed and get involved – as foster or adoptive parents, volunteers, mentors, employers or in other ways.
One Direction is helping out with this worthy cause by donating their shoes for charity; the “Kicks for Kids” contest will feature all five band members’ autographed pairs of shoes in a virtual online race to reach the highest bid. While the highest bidder of each pair will win that band member’s shoes, the winner of the pair with the highest total bid will also win a CD signed by the entire band. Kids in a New Groove will also be giving away a signed CD from One Direction in a related Facebook contest. To enter, go to Kids in a New Groove’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KidsInANewGroove/app_189116767802011. Bidding on eBay will start on Monday, May 6th at noon and will end Monday May 13th at noon. A winner for the Facebook contest will be picked the day the auction ends.
All monies raised from “Kicks for Kids” will go to Kids in a New Groove to help provide youth in foster care with private music lessons and brand new musical instruments through their Lessons are the Lifeline program. For more information, visit http://www.kidsinanewgroove.org. To learn more about the charity auction, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E-pTszdFG4&feature=youtu.be
ABOUT KIDS IN A NEW GROOVE– Kids in a New Groove is a program providing free, one-on-one music mentorship to children in the Texas foster care system. They offer weekly meetingswith mentors who provide lessons in areas such as voice, guitar, piano, and drums, which the children choose from. Along with mentor guidance and music lessons, the children also have an opportunity to receive a brand new instrument, which they can earn from meeting program goals. The program’s mission is to build solid foundations for youth in foster care so they can age out of care with the tools for success.
Program connects foster kids to music, life lessons
From the American Statesman | September 2012
For Josh Moore, “Music is not so much expression of life as it is and life as it should be. It’s life as you want it to be.”
The 18-year-old has been playing flute since he was in fourth grade. He also plays guitar and keyboard and sings in a band.
When he grows up, he says, he wants to be “a good guy,” and he wants music to always be part of his life, whether as a hobby or as a career.
Karyn Scott believes he is good enough to make a career out of music, but his first goal is to get through high school. Scott and her organization, Kids in a New Groove, are encouraging him as they have for the past two years since Moore began taking music lessons through the organization.
Kids in a New Groove provides free, weekly lessons for about 70 kids, mostly in Austin, some in Dallas and Houston, who are in the foster care system.
Moore first entered foster care as a little boy, but was able to return home shortly after. When he was 14, he was again placed in foster care, living in both a shelter and different foster homes, until he aged out when he turned 18. His dad is in prison; his mom is addicted to methamphetamine. He connects to his siblings through Facebook, but they all live in different places now.
As a senior in high school, he is already navigating adulthood: supporting himself and finding housing while keeping up with schoolwork. But music keeps him focused, gives him something to look forward to each week.
Moore will be one of the Kids in a New Groove participants who will perform at a VIP reception Thursday, as part of the organization’s Music for the Soul concert. This year, Michael Franti & Spearhead headline the show. Franti, who sings “Say Hey” and “Sound of Sunshine,” is himself adopted.
The concert’s proceeds go to funding music lessons. It costs about $1,000 a year for each child enrolled, and that’s paying a reduced rate to the teachers. The teachers come to where the student is — whether it be a foster home or a shelter. Kids usually are recommended to the program by their foster parents, by their court-appointed special advocate or by someone at Child Protective Services.
When they first begin lessons, they are given a rental instrument if they do not already have one. Children who stick with the lessons can earn an instrument of their own.
Each year, the students have a recital and inspire and encourage one another.
Scott began taking an interest in foster children while working as a prosecutor in the juvenile court. “They were always smart and resourceful, but where are the resources for these kids?”
At first she collected clothes, then in 2009, she switched to music lessons when she saw an unfulfilled need. She sees the service as not just a lesson, but a one-on-one mentorship program between the teacher and the student.
Music, she says, is a good, nonverbal positive influence for kids in foster care. It can help break through barriers and help them trust an adult. She says kids who have behavior problems at school or in foster homes don’t have problems with their Kids in a New Groove teachers because music motivates them. They want to be there.
As she sees more kids, like Josh, who are aging out of the system, she sees Kids in a New Groove’s role becoming more vital. She wants to encourage them to finish high school, to go to college. “We want to be that connection.”
Kids in a New Groove on KXAN
Music for the Soul: Michael Franti spearheads KING fundraiser Thursday
From theaustinchronicle.com | September 2012
To Michael Franti, the topic of children in foster care is a personal one. Consquently, when he was approached by Karyn Scott to play for Kids In a New Groove Thursday at the Long Center, the only answer was “yes.” KING provides private one-on-one music mentorship to kids in the Texas foster care system.
Growing up in general is difficult, the path to adulthood treacherous enough when you have parents and a family. For children in foster care, calling it “the floor you can’t fall below” is a poignant way of acknowledging a system that spits you out into the streets at age 18, ready or not.
By offering foster care children music lessons in their home – no matter how many they live in – the Austin-based KING offers kids a chance to enter life with a skill and an art, often a life-saving combination.
“Kids In a New Groove is near and dear to my heart because I was adopted,” reveals Franti. “So I have a lot of empathy for kids who are adopted or in need of adoption out of the foster care system. Music was a central part of my childhood because my mother played organ and piano in the church, and that meant all us kids had to be in the church choir.
“I was the tallest kid and had to stand in the back, which meant if I didn’t feel like singing, I’d lip-sync the words,” chuckled Franti during a phone interview. “My house was filled with music. We had a piano, and my brothers and sisters played instruments. Even though I was around it, I played basketball.
“When I went to the University of San Francisco, my dorm room was right above the campus radio station. I decided to buy myself a bass because I could hear all the bass lines, so I started to play.
“Being a kid that grew up in a very unique family, sometimes I felt like an outsider. My parents were Finnish-American, and they had three kids, plus the two of us who were adopted and African-American.
“When I first started, my songs were the politics of anger. As I got older and hopefully wiser, I wanted to be part of the politics of answers. That’s why I think Kids In a New Groove is a good thing. It provides them an opportunity to learn an instrument and express what’s in their heart.
“Many kids in foster homes have a lot of emotions that are hard to get out. It’s important to let them know they can make a difference in the community.”
KING’s annual fundraiser presents Music for the Soul with Michael Franti & Spearhead at the Long Center on Thu., Sept. 20 at 8:30pm. Tickets are $29-$64, with VIP passes available for a 6pm pre-party featuring DJ Chicken George, dining, cocktails throughout the evening, and premium concert seating in the Kodosky Lounge.
To make donations or for sponsorship information, visit Kids In a New Groove.
Michael Franti @ KUT 9/20/2012
From KUT.org | September 2012
Michael Franti isn’t easy to pin down, musically. He and his band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, play an interesting blend of hip-hop, funk, reggae, jazz, folk and rock. However, he’s a lot easier to pin down when it comes to musical mood. His latest album, The Sound of Sunshine, sounds exactly how you would expect sunshine to. It’s bright, it’s happy, and it wraps you up in its positivity and optimistic energy. Michael Franti & Spearhead have been going strong as a band since 1994, touring across the country and recording together. Michael Franti & Spearhead will be in Austin on Thursday, playing a show at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. They stopped by KUT to play live in Studio 1A. Check it out below!
Michael Franti & Spearhead bring “Sunshine” to Austin – Music for the Soul Event will Benefit Foster Youth
From PRweb | July 2012 | Also seen in Houston Chronicle and Yahoo News.
Kids in a New Groove, the pioneering Austin charity that seeks to change the lives of foster youth through music mentorship, announced today that Michael Franti & Spearhead will headline their annual Music for the Soul fundraising event on September 20, 2012 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin. The event will feature general admission concert tickets, in addition to limited VIP tickets that include a pre-party, dinner at the Long Center with renowned DJ Chicken George, cocktails throughout the night and premium concert seating.
Money raised from this one special evening will provide the majority of annual funding for Kids in a New Groove’s life changing music mentorship program for foster youth, where students take weekly private lessons, perform in recitals, make records, and earn their own brand new musical instruments. Through Kids in a New Groove, over 350 Texas youth in foster care have already benefitted by building confidence, attending college, improving grades, and making lasting friendships. Michael Franti will bring special meaning to the event this year, as the artist has a longstanding reputation for highlighting music’s ability to connect society in a socially progressive and meaningful way. Franti and his band will be welcome guests in Austin, where they have performed their inspiring blend of hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, folk and rock before crowds at Austin City Limit’s Music Festival, in addition to shows at the Erwin Center and Moody Theatre. Tickets go on sale Friday July 20, 2012 at http://www.thelongcenter.org or visit http://www.kidsinanewgroove.org for sponsorship information.
For tickets and information, visit http://www.kidsinanewgroove.org. Tickets go on sale Friday, July 20th at thelongcenter.org.
Kids in a New Groove: Kids in a New Groove (K.I.N.G.) is a 501c3 Austin based non-profit that provides weekly private music lessons and instruments to children in the Texas foster care system. K.I.N.G. seeks to change the grim statistics on youth aging out of foster care, where many children eventually face homelessness or incarceration due to lack of community resources. As foster children move between placements, a K.I.N.G. teacher moves with each child, providing a consistent and stable mentor. The K.I.N.G. program also helps children build life skills, accountability, goal-setting, and perseverance. Each foster child is also given the chance to earn their very own musical instrument through dedication and hard work, as well as encouraged to perform at concerts and recitals.
Michael Franti & Spearhead: The Sound Of Sunshine — the inspired and inspiring new album by Michael Franti & Spearhead — is a kind of musical sun shower, a bright, beautiful and often buoyant song cycle created to bring all kinds of listeners a sense of hope during rough and rainy times for so many in our world.
“Music is sunshine,” says Michael Franti, one of the most positive and conscious artists in music today. “Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.” Well aware that countless others face far worse problems than he did, Franti wants The Sound Of Sunshine to communicate a sense of hope and possibility for anybody who needs it. Franti’s singularly open spirit reflects his own eclectic and intriguing background. Michael was born to an Irish- German-French mother and an African American and American Indian father in Oakland, then adopted by a Finnish American couple who raised him along with their three biological children and another African American son. While studying at the University of San Francisco, Franti formed the punk band The Beatnigs, and later the far more hip hop-inflected The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Through it all, Franti has crossed all sorts of musical and physical boundaries in order to make music for everybody. In spite of Franti’s reputation as a groundbreaking festival headliner, both 2008’s All Rebel Rockers and the more recent The Sound of Sunshine have yielded hits, including “Say Hey (I Love You), “The Sound of Sunshine, and “Hey, Hey, Hey.” To make a financial donation to the K.I.N.G program, or to learn more about the organization, please visit the website kidsinanewgroove.org. For the most up to-date news, follow Kids In A New Groove on Twitter (KidsGroove) and on Facebook. For more information on Michael Franti & Spearhead, visit michaelfranti.com.
Nonprofit keeps foster children in tune with music lessons
From Community Impact Newspaper | June 2012
Karyn Scott spent years as a prosecutor watching foster youth going through the legal system. Scott watched as they changed homes, schools and friends, which led her to start Kids In A New Groove, located at 2215 Westlake Drive in the Lake Austin Marina Building, to provide something stable for the children.
“After I left my job as a prosecutor, I always had it in my mind that I wanted to do something to help foster youth,” Scott said.
That yearning led Scott to first form Kids In New Digs in 2004, a nonprofit aimed at providing used clothing to foster children, but Scott realized it wasn’t having the effect she wanted. After much discussion on ways to reach children in foster care, Scott decided on music mentorship in 2009.
“Mentorship is the most powerful way to reach foster youth and have a successful chance to have them age out of care,” Scott said. “We put that together with music because music is a really powerful tool for abused and neglected youth … it is a very successful therapy.”
This idea led Scott to form Kids In A New Groove, a nonprofit that aims to enhance the lives of foster children through music. The group provides music lessons of the child’s choice at no cost to the foster family.
“The idea is that there is a consistent connection every week,” Scott said. “We aim for the students to be in the program for at least a year, but they can stay as long as the lessons are productive.”
The nonprofit uses motivation along with a stable relationship to keep foster youth involved.
“A big component of our program is that kids can earn their own instrument,” Scott said.
“The idea is that youth in foster care don’t get to experience the sense of achievement that other kids get because they are transferred so frequently.”
By meeting goals and advancing in lessons, the students can earn their own instrument from the nonprofit, something they may not be able to achieve otherwise, Scott said.
“A lot of things they could achieve or experience, they don’t get to because they are at a new school,” Scott said.
Kids In A New Groove attempts to combat this by keeping the student and teacher together if at all possible, in an attempt to build a stable relationship.
The nonprofit currently serves 60 students in Austin, Dallas and Houston, but Scott hopes to expand beyond Texas in the future.
Kids In A New Groove currently pays its teachers but is hoping to recruit volunteer teachers in order to expand and serve more foster youth.
“We are really trying to recruit volunteer teachers,” Scott said. “We’ve never tried to do that before. We are super excited to take on teachers and train teachers.”
In order to help Kids In A New Groove achieve this goal, the nonprofit received a grant from the Webber Family Foundation, which supports organizations that serve lower-income youth.
“It’s about how great these kids can be … that’s what it’s about, and I think that it can help kids get adopted,” Scott said.
Gala Supports Music Program for Foster Kids
From the Westlake Picayune | March 2012
Initiated by Westbanker, event co-chair, executive director and founder Karyn Scott, a recent dinner party concert at One World Theatre drew more than 280 supporters of K.I.N.G., aka Kids in a New Groove.
Dubbed The Music for the Soul Gala, the event featured an Italianate setting that showcased a white tent strung with tea lights and table centerpieces made with 45-records and candles. The special occasion began with a cocktail reception on the Tuscan-inspired Piazza and Celebration Hall.
The Danger Cakes played live music during a mouth-watering meal of cornbread-stuffed chicken by Dagar’s Catering. Guests tried their luck on a raffle for 40 bottles of wine.
A multitude of Westbank businesses donated to the silent auction, including the boutiques of Izzy and Ash, Sanctuary and Embellish, Marye’s Pizza, Westlake CrossFit and Barton Creek Resort.
Auctioneer George Vaught led the exciting live auction of 10 packages. The highest priced bids were made by sponsors Ron and Carole Krist who won a painting by international artist Carlos Ortiz, Westbanker Heather Naples who purchased a one-week vacation to Aspen and Westbankers Adam and Janice Taylor who bought an autographed guitar by the iconic Eagles.
The evening’s much anticipated highlight featured Grammy award-winning band Blues Traveler with singer and harmonica virtuoso John Popper. Having earned six certified gold or platinum records, their song “Run Around” was the longest charting single in billboard history. Partygoers enjoyed their improvisational show of blues rock, psychedelic rock, folk rock, Southern rock and soul in the intimate, 300-seat venue.
Gross proceeds of $142,505 exceeded the fundraising goal.
“Tonight brought together things that we love – music, family and friends,” said Scott. “It demonstrated the power of music to change the lives of disadvantaged youth.”
Kids in a New Groove offers free music lessons to foster children. The nonprofit pays music teachers to travel on site, provide instruments and give lessons in voice, piano, percussion and guitar. Students perform in an annual recital and make live studio recordings. This private music mentorship has improved grades, behavior, confidence and life skills, resulting in 100 percent rate of college attendance.
Visit www.kidsinanewgroove.org for further information.
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over: The Music that moved her
From Huffingtonpost.com | January 2012
It was a beautiful summer night, and as Karyn Scott tucked her two little girls into bed, she could hear the music playing just below their windows, lullabying them to sleep. Karyn had lent her backyard to a friend for a fundraiser and fully expected a local church group to be providing the entertainment– but when she heard a song that took her breath away, she began to wonder just who was behind the mic.
“It was a song called Star of Wonder and it was about clinging to hopes,” Karyn explains. “Little did I know that’s exactly what the guys in the band were doing.”
The band, Alpha Rev, was one of thousands in the Austin, Texas, area. They’d been struggling to get attention, playing any gig they could land, while Casey, the lead singer, lived out of his car.
“I couldn’t get them out of my mind,” Karen remembers, “so a year later, when we were planning a Christmas party for my husband’s employees, I tracked them down and booked them. I was stunned to find out that they still hadn’t been discovered. And then, that night at the party — as I heard them play again — I don’t know what came over me, but I heard the words come out of my mouth: ‘You know that record deal you want?’ I said to Casey. ‘I think I can get it for you.’”
And with that, Karyn became the band‘s manager, despite the fact that she’d never worked a day in the music industry.
Karyn was an attorney by trade, but had left the Austin District Attorney’s office, where she had worked with troubled youth years earlier, so she could devote her time to her children. What she didn’t know that first night, as she listened to these young men play under the stars, was that their music would bring her full circle — that she’d not only be helping them fulfill their dreams, but the experience would lead her to change the lives of children others had given up on. But first, she’d have to do what most people in the music industry considered impossible.
“I’ve had managers tell me that they’ve worked ten years before getting a record deal,” she said laughing. “I had no idea how difficult it really was. I didn’t know what to be afraid of. Had I known, I don’t think I would have done it!” So at 40 years old, this stay-at- home mom forged ahead, learning everything she could about the music industry — studying the faces of record executives, just in case one might show up at a performance, and even financing a record for the band. “We named the label Flyer Records — because we thought we’d just ‘fly it’ and see where it lands.”
Every step of the way, Karyn hid the fact from music industry colleagues that, as she was booking the band, she was also baking cupcakes for her kids. “There was a band called Blue October that I really wanted my guys to open for; and the day their manager called, my kids were out of control. I had to lock myself in a closet and put a load of laundry over my head while my kids were banging on the door. When the manager asked about all the noise, I told him I lived next to a daycare center!”
One gig led to the next, and Karyn’s persistence quickly landed Alpha Rev a coveted spot at a college music festival. But it was her attention to detail that helped her scope out a music scout who was sitting right behind her. She quickly introduced herself and, within weeks, she landed the group an audition.
“I got a call while I was on the playground with my kids. The president of Disney’s music group wanted to hear the band. All I could think about was how to schedule this around my daughter’s debut as the Thanksgiving Corn Princess at the pre-school pageant.” In the end, both the band and the Corn Princess got rave reviews — and the band got a record deal. It had been less than one year since Karyn had begun representing them.
And yet just as things were taking off — the band began touring, and was even spotlighted on VH1 — Karyn walked away from it all. “It didn’t take long for me to become disillusioned with the business of the music business,” she says, somewhat wearily. “I was tired of all the fighting and back-stabbing, and I just wanted to do something positive. For some reason, I kept thinking about the kids I used to see coming into juvenile court when I was at the D.A.’s office — kids who had no real support. While I was managing the band, I had heard about an organization called Magic Music, which matched up music teachers with students for a fee. And I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of magic might happen if we could give children without families the same opportunity to realize their dreams that I’d given Alpha Rev.”
So once again, Karyn jumped in without a real plan. She started culling her contacts in the juvenile court system and connecting them with her new friends in the music business. Before long, she founded a non-profit, Kids in a New Groove, and was funding music lessons for 60 foster kids in Austin, Houston and Dallas.
“There are a lot of programs that target disadvantaged youth,” Karyn explains, “but they don’t reach children in foster care because the kids keep changing schools. I have one girl in our program who’s been in six homes in a year-and-a-half. These kids have a lot of trauma. They face a lot of abuse. The music gives them something positive to focus on, goals to reach, and mentors they can count on.”
And now Karyn has a new goal of her own — to see the kids in her program continue their education. The national average of foster kids who make it to college is currently two percent. Four of the 60 children mentored by Kids in a New Groove are already on their way.
“We’ve got a long waiting list, but we’ve also got a long list of people who want to help,” Karyn says with a smile. “In 2010 we threw a fundraiser and expected to raise $15,000. By the end of the night, we’d raised $70,000. So we set our sights on the $100,000 mark for our 2011 benefit and we brought in every penny!”
Grants are also beginning to roll in, and last year, the legendary Moody Blues partnered with Kids in a New Groove to collect gently used instruments. Today, Karyn is touching the lives of foster children in Texas, but it won’t be long before she starts having an impact nationwide.
“I always thought that other people could do big things — not me,” Karyn says. “But now I see what’s possible. I had no training in these areas, but I listened to my heart and took a leap of faith, and it led me to where I am now.
“Follow your passion. It may not work out with the exact fairy tale ending you envisioned, but it could lead you to something even bigger.”