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Inches Behind by Caroline Brooks

When my friend Christine Apa (founder of the 24 Foundation) told me about her non-profit, I was excited to get involved for two reasons: 1- It's an atypical opportunity to use art to directly help someone besides yourself, and 2- I was broke so the best way I could really help was to give my time. I started out volunteering as a piano teacher, but it quickly evolved into songwriting. Some of the at-risk girls I taught were already acquainted with the piano so it didn't take them long to learn chords and scales. Even the girls who had never touched a piano before eagerly worked hard and caught on quickly. That's when I got creative and changed the agenda a bit. A few of the girls loved writing poetry and rap, but were too shy to share their lyrics. When I shared some of my own personal songs I had written (that I will probably never play live) to heal from painful experiences, the walls started coming down. It took authenticity and vulnerability from me to make it a safe place for them to create.


Self-deprecation and self-condemnation were common issues we dealt with. It's vital to recognize how powerful and paralyzing our own thoughts can be. I tried my best to remind them to focus on being the best versions of themselves instead of comparing their progress to others. Piano can be a difficult instrument to learn; I didn't want them to be afraid of making mistakes. I told them I would tolerate errors, but I wouldn't tolerate the words, "I can't." The girls were usually guarded on the first day. Most of them loosened up when they could sense you were genuine… which was a little intimidating at first. My goal could not be to prove myself to them or shove anything down their throats - I needed to be there to love on them and teach them a new art medium so they could express themselves in an abstract way. Gradually, when girls were ready to open up and share some of their stories and future aspirations, it was hard not to get attached to them. Many had come so far and were so resilient and hopeful despite past traumas. Some had gone through severe trauma and neglect and didn't know how to articulate or process it verbally. When they were taught some chords and given a pen and paper, they were able to express themselves in an abstract way and heal from it. I, being the sappy cheese ball that I am, got so attached to one group that I wrote a song called "Inches Behind" and performed it for them. It was the best (and corniest) way I knew how to encourage them in the steps they were taking toward a promising and healthy future. During one session in particular, my girls voted to learn Eminem's song "I'm Not Afraid" because its message of recovery and redemption resonated with them. I challenged them to re-write the verses to replace Eminem's lyrics - mainly to have them create something original and not rely heavily on profanity. When we performed it on the last day, the girls did an amazing job and I was the white girl that got way too excited about it. I was so proud of their work ethic and vulnerability that I wrote them each little personal notes of encouragement to take home with them. All to say, I'm so grateful to be a part of this non-profit and so excited with how much it's already expanding. So many of the mentors behind it, especially Christine, are passionately generous with their time and resources to provide a creative catalyst for healing. It's inspiring to witness the positive impact it has on the kids. If you don't know much about this non-profit, you should take the time to look it up. I'm so thankful I did. Keep on creating, growing, and moving forward, ya'll.

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