Striking the Right Chord: A Volunteer’s Journey with the After-school Guitar Program at West Park Cultural Center

In the heart of community engagement and musical enrichment lies the West Park Cultural Center’s After-school Guitar Program. Today, we delve into the inspiring journey of Amanda Krakovitz, a dedicated volunteer whose passion for music and mentorship has illuminated the lives of countless youth. Through her experiences with the program, Amanda not only shares heartfelt anecdotes but also unveils the transformative power of music education in fostering personal growth and community connection. Join us as we explore Amanda’s insights and reflections on her remarkable volunteer journey at the intersection of creativity and compassion.

How did you first become involved with West Park Cultural Center’s After-school Guitar Program, and what inspired you to volunteer?

I was looking on a volunteer match site and saw the opportunity. I wanted to find a way to give back to the community through service. I was looking for something with the elderly and/or music. The guitar program got back to me and invited me to a class right away. I thought that was really cool how I was just invited to check it out and the opportunity felt right. I loved the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone to teach music while also working with youth, which is my passion.

Can you share a memorable experience or success story from your time volunteering with the After-school Guitar Program?

I was asked to lead the class solo for the first time and it went really well! I was nervous at first as this volunteer opportunity is the first time I’ve ever led classes even though I’ve been playing guitar for many years. It was awesome to see the class flow well and the students all seemed to have fun and learn something at the same time. Even with the various skill levels, we were all able to learn Mary Had a Little Lamb together. The students were able to practice peer mentorship, with more experienced players helping out newer players. It was really beautiful to witness and I left the class feeling fulfilled and happy with it.

How do you believe music and the guitar, in particular, contribute to the personal development of the children and youth in the program?

I know that the current school system can be really hard for students. The opportunity to learn a new skill while being able to practice self expression is powerful. Allowing them to engage in something that interests them while having fun and making improvements is great for confidence. It also helps to build community because they get a chance to interact with and help each other get better. It’s a great way to encourage them to encourage each other.

What motivated you to work with children and teens , specifically in the context of guitar instruction?

I worked as a field instructor for Outward Bound in various locations for over seven years. Working with students in an environment where they can explore and have fun while learning is the most rewarding experience, and what I believe constitutes a good education. I think guitar instruction is another way to practice true learning and create a love for learning in the process. I believe that learning is meant to be both challenging AND fun, and guitar instruction allows for that perfect balance.

In what ways do you tailor your approach to accommodate beginners, those with some experience, and those who consider themselves advanced in the guitar program?

Something that I implemented in one of the classes was peer mentorship. I think that really helped keep everyone engaged. It also gave more experienced students a chance to teach what they know. We also split up the groups to make it a bit easier to accommodate students and allow for more one-on-one instruction with each student.

Can you share any strategies or techniques you use to help build confidence in the participants and enhance their guitar skills?

Acknowledging small wins is huge. Every student has their own unique strengths and successes. Being able to identify them and show the student that you see their hard efforts really helps with building confidence. Something else that has been helpful is allowing each student to show others what they learned and cheering them on as a group while they share. In general, young people can be reluctant to share pieces of themselves – I feel that these gentle nudges can really show that they DO have something to share, that their piece to the puzzle is important and should be recognized.

How has your experience with the afterschool guitar program impacted your personal and professional life?

Working with students has been a big part of my life purpose and the afterschool guitar program has been a huge gift. I have been in a bit of a lull period in my life and I find it has reignited the fire within me to fulfill that purpose. I get to help the youth with their development while also pursuing my own. While I did come in having a lot of guitar playing experience I never taught formal lessons before – so teaching in this new way has given me a lot of confidence. It feels really good to be able to share and teach about something that I love to do, and it feels like combining my love for teaching with my love for music. It is incredibly rewarding to help others find joy in their own self expression through playing an instrument.

What role do you believe collaboration with other volunteers, staff, and the community plays in the success of the After-school Guitar Program?

I think that by working with the greater community we can make sure we always have a place to have the guitar lessons. I know having a location has been a bit tricky and I think by spreading the word we can make sure that there is always a suitable place for us. We were able to switch locations which I’m sure can be attributed to folks working together on solutions. And of course, if more people know about the guitar classes, then we can have more instructors and serve more people.

How has your experience with West Park Cultural Center impacted your own personal and professional development?

I am not too familiar with the Center itself but I am grateful that such a great resource is available to the community. I know that access to instruments and lessons can be hard for folks and it feels good to know that there are organizations out there that care to provide this kind of resource.

How do you believe arts and culture, particularly through programs like Afterschool Guitar, contribute to the creative and academic potential of children and youth?

Arts and culture are more important than ever when it comes to our youth today. Everyone has the ability to create but we often don’t have the right opportunities or resources to express ourselves through art. Programs like the Afterschool Guitar gives students those opportunities that are often lacking in a formal school setting. It offers a chance to learn a new skill while having fun and interacting with other students that have a similar interest and desire to learn.

Please Share some insights into the skills and knowledge you’ve gained through your volunteer experience with West Park Cultural Center.

I am not too familiar with the community surrounding the West Park Cultural Center, so it has been a nice way to get to learn about new people and cultures that I might otherwise not interact with. I am grateful for the opportunity to jump right in and help out. Even though this volunteer experience has been outside my comfort zone I felt immediately welcomed by the instructor and the other students. I feel like we have become like family in such a short period of time and it has been a beautiful experience. I also got invited to another community event through my volunteer experience and that made me feel even more at home. I have lots of love for the Cultural Center because of that!

How do you see the values of West Park Cultural Center reflected in your interactions and experiences as a volunteer?

As a volunteer I can see that West Park Cultural Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for youth to engage in their own creativity. They play an important role in making sure that youth have access to culture and art opportunities. It is also open to diversity and is inclusive to everyone!

How would you encourage others to get involved with West Park Cultural Center’s programs, based on your own positive experiences?

I would say that as a volunteer it has been a great way to connect with other community members and youth. It has been great socially and also for my own personal development as an educator. As a student, I would say that it is a great way to learn self expression with no judgment as there are students of all skill levels and the instructors are kind and supportive.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I really appreciate the opportunity to offer reflections on my volunteer experience. It makes me feel valued as a volunteer and I am happy to share the things I have learned.

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