Grantee Spotlight: INTAKE Native Instrument Academy creates change through the arts

Jun 14, 2017

Originally published on the Hearst CT News Blog

As a middle school student learning to speak English as a second language, Anthony was struggling. He didn’t understand the word problems his class was tackling, and was falling behind in math. Concerned, his parents turned to a unique source of support: the family advocate staff at INTAKE Native Instrument Academy, a Stamford-based nonprofit devoted to making music education accessible to underserved communities.

INTAKE’s family advocates understood Anthony’s language barrier, and matched him up with a retired tutor for one-on-one support in math, English and music. Soon, Anthony was back on track at school, and making solid academic progress.

For families like Anthony’s, it can be empowering to work with an organization that helps kids succeed in both school and life, while preserving their unique culture. One key reason local families have access to this resource, says INTAKE’s founder, is Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

“When we were getting started, we didn’t have a lot of knowledge on how to go about launching the program and getting investors,” says Angelica Durrell, founder and executive director of INTAKE. “Through a grant and guidance from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, we were able to attract national-level funders.”

INTAKE Native Instrument Academy
INTAKE Founder and Executive Director, Angelica Durrell, works on proper violin technique with the organization’s youngest students as the ensemble rehearses in the background.

Giving kids access to universal tools for success

A violinist by training, Durrell understands firsthand that music can powerfully shape a child’s life. Her own life was transformed by her training – but came at a high cost.

“My mother worked three jobs to fund my training, feed me, and pay rent,” recall Durrell.

INTAKE is Durrell’s way of extending a helping hand to families in similar situations. With a goal of helping to close the achievement gap, INTAKE aims to make music education accessible to children and families of low socioeconomic backgrounds.

But teaching music to at-risk students isn’t just about mastery of the arts, says Durrell. It’s about giving kids universal tools for success – helping them to leverage skills gained through mastering a musical instrument to improve personal, social and educational outcomes.

“Music education goes behind that sense of understanding that if you can read music, you can interpret a book or any homework you may have,” says Durrell.

The organization also strives to nurture an open, inclusive environment that extends into the broader community. Through INTAKE’s Native Instrument Academy, students in underserved communities receive bilingual instruction on both native indigenous and classical instruments, and explore western European and world music.

“Before, for these kids and families, there wasn’t any organization that bridged both of these worlds into a multicultural organization,” says Durrell. “The mission is to make music education relevant, accessible and inclusive. Classical and world music is for everyone.”

The program now serves about 75 students and their families. Once a week, the students come to participate in a bilingual choir, go through instrumental lessons and do their homework. Parents have the option of receiving English tutoring while they wait for their children, giving them an opportunity to build their own skills.

In the two years since its founding, the Native Instrument Academy has become a trusted and impactful resource for families in underserved communities. But in 2015, as the program was launching, Durrell had many questions about growing the program’s reach and operations. For help, she turned to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

By attending workshops at the Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence, Durrell learned about financial strategies, advocacy opportunities and how to empower INTAKE’s board to take an active role in shaping and growing the organization.

“The board needs to be inspired and taken into account,” says Durrell. “They’re decision makers in shaping future plans, and are financially responsible in helping write grants. Having a collective effort makes everyone feel part of it, and has helped me and the entire organization.”

With encouragement from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, Durrell also successfully applied for a grant from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, enabling the Native Instrument Academy to dramatically grow its reach and operations.

“Using grant resources to educate kids on a weekly basis opened a lot of doors,” says Durrell. “It helped to give us that stamp of approval that a recognized organization is investing in us, enabled us to reach out to broader community causes, and helped us to attract national level funders.”

Empowering inclusive communities through music education

Today, with the help of knowledge, resources and grant funding from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, the Native Instrument Academy continues to grow.

The program is working to incorporate Native American instruments in its programming, and will travel across state borders this year to foster intercultural leadership and work with Native Americans on the Cheyenne River reservation. A five-year concert series that will explore a new culture each year is also in the works, pairing INTAKE students with professional ensembles and the Norwalk Youth Symphony.

Sharing the gift of music is a way to build a more united, inclusive community. And for families struggling with language barriers, the language of music can bridge otherwise daunting divides.

INTAKE’s holistic approach of partnering with parents on education and cross-cultural communication has empowered families who may feel as if they otherwise have no voice – and to Durrell, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.

“They may feel they cannot speak to anyone else, but feel we are able to connect with them,” says Durrell. “It gives them an incredible sense of empowerment, a feeling of belonging and cultural identity. Through INTAKE, we are really creating that sense of family, and a movement that brings people together through community engagement.”

Learn more about making the arts accessible to all, and how you can support this work..

Together we thrive.