PORTLAND -- Franklin Toney is like a lot of teens who love music. The 16-year-old has had a rougher start to life than most; he was born to drug dealing parents and put into the foster care system before being adopted into a loving home.
He struggles with school, but music helps.
“When I’m down or something--even if it’s not me playing or singing--a song I like would calm me down," Toney said.
Friday morning Toney joined Cassia Sage and Diamond Key to rehearse for a benefit concert Saturday night in Northeast Portland.
They are super stars in a non-profit program called “My Voice Music.” Founder Ian Mouser started My Voice Music in 2009. He had worked as a counselor for troubled kids and found they responded well to music.
Now he offers free music classes to alternative schools and treatment centers, working with youth between 5 and 24 years old. The program touches the lives of 500 kids a year.
Franklin Toney and his fellow singers have felt their share of pain.
Cassia Sage is 13. Her mother is seriously ill and her father lost his job. She has battled depression and self-image issues. The music helps shelter her from all that.
“When all you can hear is the music and all you can think about is what you're singing and you can let it flow out and forget about everything else,” she said.
My Voice Music teaches kids to play instruments, write songs, and perform. Often the pain in their lives is reflected in the music.
Sage wrote the song they practiced Friday. It’s about an elderly man trying to overcome a past hurt. He’s deciding whether to rejoin society or turn his back forever. She said it helps to get the feelings out.
“Of course it's helped me,” she said. “It's one of my main ways of expressing myself. It’s always been what I’ve felt like I’m supposed to do."
Mouser said he felt the pull to help kids like her ever since his own troubled high school years.
“I learned I didn’t have to get in fights and I didn’t have to experiment with drugs and alcohol but I could be kind and I could be a leader and I could change, make positive change," he said. "And that's what really changed my life. Music is a piece of what we do. Music is the candy and relationship is the sustaining meal."
The relationship builds trust and performing builds self image and self esteem. It all repairs broken lives.
Diamond Key’s stepmother says she suffered mental and physical abuse for years. My Voice Music is helping her come back to life.
“If I’m feeling bad I can express my feelings through playing music ," she said. "It helps me feel better. It’s like my therapy.”
Her stepmother, Yvette Key, said it's actually better than that.
“Therapy wasn’t working as well as music,” she said. She believes the music program is “doing way more than a therapist or counselor ever could have.”
Saturday night, Key, Sage and Toney will sing their songs on stage in front of a live audience. It’s one more step in building new lives, with the help of My Voice Music.
The organization is holding its third anniversary benefit auction and performance Saturday, October 15, 2011 from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. at the Village Ballroom, 700 NE Dekum, Portland. Tickets are $20 per person and the cost includes a CD of songs performed by My Voice Music students.