Music Gives Me Courage

courage

When Plummer Home asked me to write a blog post for the Key of C Campaign, one word came to mind: Courage. Because music has given me courage.

Music is something I never thought I would be doing. When I came to Plummer Home in the summer of 2014, I had been to many programs, but this one was different to me. I still can remember my first time in the music room. It started with me playing drums and ended with me writing two different songs in about 3 hours.

 

 

I have a history, and it is not the greatest, but that is what makes the music. It helps me because I am able to tell my story without being judged. I know for me music gives a chance to share my story that I would not have been able to do if it was not for it.

 

See my interview on WCVB Chronicle.

Chronicle screenshot

In the Plummer music program I learned to control my feelings in a song and tell in it there. I felt that Aaron, the music teacher, was like another father figure because I really did not have one until the age 18, when I finally got to talk with my biological father. Aaron showed me so many things, like the best way for me to channel my thoughts was through speech and go from there.

Aaron and Chris playing keyboard

The Plummer music program gave me the courage to share what I have to say in either a song or a speech. After a while, Plummer gave me the chance to do two public speaking gigs and each time I had to get told to come down because I have so much to say and I love speaking in front of people now.

The Plummer music program made a teen with a lot of anger to an adult with many dreams. Today I am attending Salem State University and am still in close contact with Plummer Home.

I hope you will consider giving to the Key of C Campaign so other kids with histories like mine can get the same benefits.

Celebrating Holidays with your Foster Children

Christmas cookiesChristmas and Hanukkah can be a joyous time for most, but for many youth in foster care the holiday season can also bring added stress and anxiety.

Dr. John DeGarmo, a foster parent as well as a professional in the field, talks about his experiences fostering youth over the holidays in Foster Focus Magazine. He writes,

 “When they wake up Christmas morning, and are surrounded by people who just may be strangers to them, strangers who are laughing and having fun, it can be a very difficult time for them, indeed. To be sure, it is a day that is a stark reminder to these children that they are not with their own family. It is during the holidays when families are supposed to be together, yet these children in care are not. They are not with their families, and they may not know when they will see them next.”

Dr. DeGarmo gives tips to foster parents on how to help youth through these difficulties. He reminds families that it is expected that some youth will regress during the holidays and revert back to old behaviors or attitudes. Dr. DeGarmo believes that allowing youth their own space to grieve is of utmost importance.

He also recommends that families prepare the foster youth for the holiday by talking about their family’s traditions and asking youth what their own traditions might be. Adding a child’s traditions shows the youth that you care about them and respect their birth family.

To see more of Dr. DeGarmo’s suggestions click here.

Music Helps Me Feel Calm

calming

Calming? Really?

That’s probably not the word that comes to mind for most people when they think of teenagers going full force on a set of drums.

But it’s a feeling we hear described over and over when Plummer and On Point kids talk about how they feel when they’re playing.

 

Colin says it straight out, “I feel like I just like – like I feel like I let everything – like all the frustration out.”

John comes around to it, first describing how hot he gets because of the exercise and then quickly moving on to “But overall it’s kind of like calming … I [get] a huge burden off my chest . . . it’s like my own way of therapy.”

Evan says, “I get into the zone … it’s like you’re one with the music. It’s like you really feel that it’s flowing out of your body. You know, it’s everything’s like perfect. You’re just there. You’re playing. And like nothing could stop you … It’s like you have a big shield around you.”

Kelvin says, “It takes out all my emotions and I feel like when I’m angry or sad or depressed I can just jump on the drums and all my feelings get in a rhythm and they feel like they go away.”

 

Even the staff see it. “In that time with just the music going on, it’s like everything else they forget about. You know, all their pain and their struggle and everything that’s going on on the outside … they really kind of let it go.”

Much has been written about drumming’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety, and even to help people heal from trauma. Here in Plummer’s Group Home and On Point programs, we see it firsthand.

Please click here to keep up the drumbeat and help kids heal.

At the Holidays: Foster Kids on the Outside Looking In

Christmas Party 2013Tradition looms large for most people in December. Some of us get out a menorah and light Hanukkah candles. Others put up a Christmas tree. Most of us take for granted that we will spend time with family.

Not so for thousands of kids in the foster care system. These kids, especially those in group homes, feel as though they’re on the outside looking in on things so basic that most of us never stop to consider their fundamental importance to us.

“Christmas is a time where everyone comes together as family.”

So said a youth in Plummer’s group home. The thing is, this young man hasn’t lived with his family since he was five – he is 18 now. And yet, he identifies family as the defining element of Christmas. Not presents, not food, not decorations. Family. 

While nothing can substitute for belonging to a forever family, thanks to people who care, Plummer and other agencies can help build and maintain holiday traditions that perhaps our kids will carry with them as they grow up.

At Thanksgiving we have a big meal with lots of turkey and pie. The dining room is set nicely with tablecloths and flowers. Before dinner, we each say what we’re thankful for.

At this time of year, we also ask our kids if there are particular gifts they’d like. The generosity of the community means we can get lots of things on these lists. Our group home becomes very busy as people deliver gifts that we hustle off to the attic before the boys get a peek. Day after day, people’s kindness is revealed.

Several days before Christmas, we have a big party. Before opening gifts, we read Twas the Night Before Christmas. You can usually hear a pin drop.

And then the present opening begins. Staff members circulate among the kids — oooing and aahing at their gifts, holding shirts up to see if they’ll fit — all the things a parent does.

This is one of the happiest and saddest days in Plummer’s group home. Like all children, our kids are thrilled to get gifts. But at the end of the day, the most important piece is missing from this tradition. Family.

We work hard every day to reconnect our kids with family. We are challenging the notion that teens don’t need families, or that somehow they don’t want families, because we have seen that this is not the case. And when we are successful, we know that we have provided the best gift of all, the gift of family.

Perhaps you will honor the tradition of giving during this holiday by becoming a foster parent. You don’t need to be rich, married, or own a fancy house. You just need to open your heart to a child who needs a family, like all children do.

Call today for more information, 978-935-9555 or visit plummerhome.org.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Music Creates a Culture of Safety

culture

culture-photo1When bad things happen, where do you go? Who do you turn to? Where is your safe place to process anger, fear or frustrations?

Most people find safety in their homes. Home is where we can cry in the privacy of our own rooms. Home is where we can yell in frustration at people who we know will love us enough to forgive and understand.

The teens living at Plummer Home have never had that kind of safe place. They’ve generally spent year after year moving from one foster placement to the next, never finding emotional safety.

A few years ago, a 16 year old resident at Plummer wrote lyrics to a song about what “home” meant to him:

You wake up in the safest place
You know each smell and sound
And every path your life may take
Leads to this solid ground
Called HOME

 

The music rooms at the Plummer Home and On Point have become safe places for many Plummer kids.

“Being in the music room gives me a voice” says Connor, a resident at Plummer, “It gives me expression. This is a judgment-free zone, you can do whatever you want and no one’s going to make fun of you.”

But safe places aren’t always easy. “Having a safe place to express emotions can sometimes be difficult” says music therapist and performing artist Sarah Blacker “but moving past that pain to a place [where you can] express those feelings is important. Music provides an outlet to communicate our personal experiences so that we can feel connected to other people.”

A keyboard in the corner. A set of drums. A guitar. The music rooms at the Plummer Home and On Point may not look like much, but they are so much more. They are the safest place that some of these kids have ever known. They are places for healing. They are judgment-free. They bring relief.

culture-photo2

“When I come in here, I don’t have to worry about all my other problems” says Plummer resident Justin, “I get a huge burden off my chest. I feel like I can take my frustrations out on the drums…It’s my own way of therapy. I feel comfortable. I don’t feel trapped or under pressure.”

“I come into the music room because it has a really good vibe and just makes you feel happy.” says Plummer resident Ben,” It’s like when you walk in the door, all depression and anger is gone and you just basically have fun.”

 

Where is your safest place? A place where you can experience the joy of letting go and just being you. Your home. Our home. Their home. The Plummer Home and On Point music rooms.

Donate now to our Key of C Campaign here: crowdrise.com/plummerkeyofc

Finding Family after years in Foster Care

In Massachusetts, children in foster care often live in foster families.  Sometimes, however, they live in other places, like Group Homes. In addition to our Foster Care program, which we often talk about in this blog, Plummer Home operates a Group Home for young men.

Most youth in our group home been moved many, many times – often more than 20 times in 10 years.  By the time they become teens, they have often concluded that they’ll never have a family. This belief is sometimes supported by adults who believe the same.

Plummer Home rejects this notion.  We believe that family is both possible and necessary for all children, including teens and young adults.  From time to time, we post the personal stories of some of these extraordinary youth to highlight their struggles, their needs and their incredible courage.

RJ and his sister at PlummerThree years ago, 19 year-old RJ moved into Plummer’s group home.  His mother had died when he was 6; his father was addicted to drugs and living in another state. He had a sister in Boston with whom he had very little contact.

As soon as he moved in, we started talking with him about the importance of family. He was both interested in the idea and skeptical that family was possible for him. He had very little hope.

We got to know his older sister, who lived 20 miles away. After a few months, she told us he had an aunt in Connecticut, so we reached out. RJ’s aunt was stunned to hear from us because she had been told (incorrectly) that RJ had been adopted.

So we took RJ to Connecticut to meet his Aunt. We discovered from her that there was more family, and she organized a reunion. Through this reunion, RJ connected with an uncle in New Jersey. When RJ’s Dad died not long after, RJ attended services in New York with family at his side. Family that, before coming to Plummer, RJ didn’t know he had.

RJ is now 19.  He talks with his Aunt and Uncle weekly, occasionally spending weekends with each of them. He and his 31-year old sister have become quite close, and he will be leaving Plummer Home to move in with her in the next few months. Here’s what he says, “being reconnected with my family … brought me hope because I knew I had people who cared about me and who I can count on.”

During the last few years, RJ has used Plummer’s music program to help him come to grips with his past and look forward to a brighter future.  Here’s how he describes it, and here’s a song he wrote to his deceased parents as part of his healing process.

To learn more about how you can make a difference in the life of someone like RJ, call Plummer Foster Care today at 978-935-9555 or visit us at plummerhome.org.

Music Helps Me Become a Champion

champion

Champion is the word that comes to mind for 19 year old Kaylee when she thinks of the Key of C Music Campaign.

“Music has helped me become a champion… It has helped me overcome so many obstacles. It is my confidence.”



But it wasn’t always that way.

Three years ago, when Kaylee was 16, she felt nothing like a champion. Uncertain of herself, anxious to fit in with others, she made some bad decisions that landed her in Juvenile Court.

Fortunately, she lives in Salem, the location of Plummer Home’s On Point program. A collaboration of Plummer Home, the Salem Police Community Impact Unit and Essex County Juvenile probation, On Point provides therapeutic, educational and recreational programming to kids as an alternative to serving time in a juvenile detention facility.

“I remember the day Kaylee arrived at On point,” says Keith Willa, Plummer’ On Point Director. “Hoodie up, eyes down, wringing her hands and saying little.” As with all kids, I wondered how best to reach her. I had no idea music would be the key.”

Callie and Kaylee

Kaylee credits Plummer Home music instructor Callie Lipton with helping her tremendously. Of her teaching approach, Callie says “it’s very important to be aware and sensitive as I respond to the subject matter in the songs they write. Some of the students have been bullied and others suffer from depression and anxiety. As they learn to write and play music they are given the opportunity to process and heal from their struggles and gain tools to use in their own lives when they might otherwise feel hopeless.” (More about Callie’s work with youth in the community here.)

One of Kaylee’s proudest moments was two months ago on a stage in downtown Salem during October, Salem’s busiest tourist season. “I performed my own set – four songs back to back, not stopping. … And that was my first performance where I felt like, oh my God, like that went well. … My family was there too, and that was really cool.” (Check out Kaylee and Gyanna’s performance during Halloween in Salem here.)

Even though Kaylee completed her court-ordered time at On Point, she comes back every week to make music, talk with friends and encourage others. “I love it,” she says.

As for Kaylee’s continued presence at On Point, Keith says she is a joy to have around. Always smiling, always laughing. “Nothing like when she first arrived. Today we can’t keep her quiet. And who would want to? Her laughter and compassion are contagious – she lights up the room. And she’s a terrific role model for kids who are struggling.”

 

 

Plummer Home works with kids — mostly teens — in foster care or the juvenile justice system. They have suffered from things like violence, neglect, hunger, bullying and worse. They often stuggle with depression, anger, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. They have trouble trusting people.

We are raising money through our six-week Key of C Campaign to ensure that music remains an expressive outlet for kids like Kaylee. Each week, we will share the stories of at-risk and vulnerable teens who have used music to develop characteristics so vital to thriving in adulthood – things like courage, confidence, and coping skills.

Help us ensure that Plummer Home can continue to make music available to kids in the foster care and juvenile justice system as they try to overcome experiences most of us can’t imagine.

Donate now to our Key of C Campaign at: crowdrise.com/plummerkeyofc

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