The PACTROCKS music program for youth in conflict with the law does much more than teach kids how to play in a rock and roll band. “The youth learn to work together and develop confidence and better social skills. Most importantly there’s a sense of belonging in the community,” said Sharron Weichel, program administrator for the Riverdale Academy of New Music (RANM), which has partnered with the PACT (Participation, Acknowledgement, Commitment, Transformation) Youth Crime Reduction Program to put on the initiative.
“The outcome has just been amazing.” PACTROCKS is a six-week program where participants are divided into groups and form a rock band that creates songs with positive messages for the community about their experiences with the youth justice system. The youth, mentored by experienced instructors, also learn how to play drums, guitar, bass, sing and even produce music.
Terance Brouse, PACT’s director of community relations, explained that the independently funded program’s goal is to keep kids out of trouble while igniting their passion for music.
“It’s amazing to watch. As soon as (the youth) picked up a microphone it was like the weight of the world was lifted off their shoulders,” said Brouse, crediting local businesses and volunteers for their ongoing support.
“It’s not a silver bullet but it’s an opportunity to connect (the youth) with some passion.”
One young man, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, said that he was a bit skeptical at first about the program but now he’s excited about the potential of participating in its next session.
“At first I thought it was a ‘wack thing’ but when I saw drumming it just made my day,” said the 15-year-old youth who resides at local open custody/open detention facility.
“It’s pretty good. I got a good experience from it.”
Another young man in the program said that he, too, didn’t know what to expect at first but once the program got rolling the Saturday morning workshops couldn’t come sooner.
“I really looked forward to it. It’s a great way to release stress and have fun,” said the 17-year-old, underlining that having understanding instructors has made all the difference.
“The people there have good people skills. You can really talk to them,” he said, adding playing music is positive thing that would always be in his life.
And, the experience was just as rewarding and fulfilling for the PACTROCKS’ mentors.
“The kids are actually really inspiring. I’m really proud of them,” said Kevin Porter, RANM’s founder and music director.
“I’ve seen lots of talent. We need to engage kids and give them a challenge.”
Porter, who credits music for helping him avoid a destructive path as a teenager, shared that the program’s message is that youth can follow their dreams and make a difference.
“Music really saved my life and it’s provided me with an opportunity to express myself and find some success,” said Porter, an accomplished guitarist and instructor who also produces music.
“I would have been lost without music.”
Roy Morency, PACTROCKS’ drum teacher, said he’s thrilled that the program’s participants have come out of their shells and are learning so quickly.
“After six weeks I’m totally impressed. The participants are really getting a lot of positive experiences from the program,” said Morency, a big James Brown fan.
“They excite me. It’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling to help others.”
Morency, a crown ward who had a tough childhood in and out of foster homes, also said that he’s even considering forming a marching drum line for parades and community events that includes some of PACTROCKS’ graduates as mentors for other young people.
PACTROCKS, the fourth program co-ordinated by the PACT Youth Crime Reduction Program, will wrap up its first session Dec. 9 with a community performance at the Art Zone Studios, 748 Broadview Ave, at 1 p.m.
The Malvern Community Centre Choir will also contribute to the concert, which will be recorded live to CD. All are welcome to attend and show their support.
PACTROCKS’ next edition is expected to get underway in late January.