Connecting: The Gift of Aaron Katz

connecting

“Music has been my life path since I was very little. To be able to meet a kid that doesn’t have that and then to help them find it and help them find themselves is incredibly rewarding. It’s such a gift.” So says Aaron Katz, Plummer Home and On Point Music Program Leader.

“We are constantly trying different ways to engage our kids” says Executive Director James Lister, “it’s a major component to running a good residential program. Kids come to us with a variety of pasts, and it’s really difficult to engage them and really difficult for them to trust us.”

When I think about Aaron, “I see such a talented musician but also recognize that there’s a lot of talented musicians, and not everyone can engage our kids in a way that Aaron can. And the combination together is very, very powerful.”

One could say that Katz was born with drumsticks in his hands. Both his parents were musicians, his father a drummer and his mother a singer and music therapist. Katz has been playing the drums, teaching himself piano and composing songs for as long as he can remember.

By the time he reached Worcester Academy High School, he was playing in both school and community venues, including his high school jazz band and in orchestra pits for local community musicals. At age 16, Katz secured his first professional paid gig.

Katz received a full music scholarship to the University of New Hampshire. Just one semester short of graduation, the opportunity of a life-time came up and he left college to pursue his dream of being a full-time professional musician writing music and playing drums for his band Percy Hill. Katz played with Percy Hill for over 10 years, touring the country professionally and gaining a large fan base.

State house performance

Katz credits those 10 years on the road as having taught him some valuable life lessons because “once you’ve literally lived in a van with a bunch of musicians you’ve seen just about everything.”

In 2007 Katz started playing with Callie Lipton in a new band called “The Dejas” and he moved to Salem, MA. He put up advertisements that were seen by the Plummer Home program director and Katz was hired part-time to start building a music program.

“It can be very emotional for me to see the kids take music on and become one with it, because it means so much to me,” says Katz.

When asked to think of a word that starts with “C” to conclude our “Key of C” campaign, Katz says “I would definitely say connection, because we’re learning to connect to ourselves, we’re learning to connect to others, we’re learning to connect to something bigger than ourselves, which humbles us and allows us to fully experience the human experience.”

Aaron says working with the kids is like getting a gift. Here at Plummer, we feel like he is the gift.

Please click here to donate to the Plummer Home music program and help some of the most vulnerable kids around receive the gift of music.

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.

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.

Music Creates a Culture of Safety

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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

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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Music Helps Me Cope

c-coping

scan0021His mother died when he was six. His father, addicted to drugs, abandoned him. At 16, RJ arrived at Plummer Home a lonely, traumatized teenager who had been bouncing around the foster care system for several years.

RJ had a lot to overcome. And the Plummer Home music program helped him do that. As he explains:

“Sometimes I feel as though … I want to express … A lot of pain. And I’ve shown that through making a song called Raise Your Hands. … I wrote raise your hands because I want to … talk to my deceased parents because of the fact that I felt as though there’s a lot of things that were left unsaid but I wanted to say to them.”

Watch RJ’s Raise Your Hands video to see what we mean. With the first verse addressing his deceased mother, and the second his deceased father, RJ speaks of love, anger and ultimately forgiveness.

 

One of the tools Plummer uses to help young men and women move past their pain is music. RJ is a perfect example of how this works.

Aaron Z. Katz, professional musician and Plummer Home’s Music Program Leader speaks of the range of feelings he sees when teaching the kids music.

“Some of the emotions that I’ve seen expressed … are remembering rough experiences and being able to bring those up and deal with them and express them in a positive way. … We do everything from basic instrumental lesson, music theory, learning drums, piano, guitar, bass, songwriting.”

Romare drums

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 RJ. 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

If you would like to hear some of RJ’s original music, go to:

ksliceTSM on Soundcloud

Meanmuggers Productions