WORCESTER – A group of Worcester kids, with the assistance of local musicians and Worcester police officers, are writing, producing and performing a song for the families and victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
AMPP Worcester, an alternative music program made possible through state and public grants, is giving Worcester teenagers a chance to learn instruments and other music equipment as a way to develop their artistic talents and to give them an opportunity to pursue a music career in the future.
With the success of the Worcester Police Department’s [WPD] three-week long summer Gang Camp, and the Worcester Police Athletic League [PAL] boxing and basketball programs [and rugby program in development], police officers Justin Bennes and Lt. Sean Murtha, along with local musician Johneric Lavergne have developed AMPP as a means to give Worcester kids another option other than athletics.
“The idea with this program is that we do so much with the sports, we’re missing those kids that are artistic in some form or fashion. It strikes with me because that was me when I was their age and that’s how I kept myself occupied,” Bennes said in a recent interview.
“Our slogan is ‘Let Your Voice Be Heard’ and the idea is to connect kids with the opportunity to see music as not just a guitar in a room or a recorder on their phone, but to come in and see how the pros are doing it and to build a relationship with musicians and with the police. Also, we want to provide them with an opportunity to do something that they’re passionate about and work them through the whole process,” he added.
The program, only a few months old, runs twice a week on Mondays and Tuesdays for roughly eight hours per week. The students in the program all get to play instruments and will go through the process of playing the music, and then recording, producing, editing and put it out on social media.
“The idea is to show them it’s not just a passion of yours, but it can be a career for you, too. We would like them to see local musicians in the area doing what they love and getting paid for it, or having another job, but still playing music and having fun with it,” Bennes, a skilled guitar player in his own right, said.
The program is held in a studio space owned by Lavergne inside Straight Ahead Ministries on Main St. All of the equipment is owned by Lavergne who is donating his time to help the kids in the program develop their musical talents.
Lavergne is working with the kids to record and produce a song for Parkland and the students, teachers and families at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.
Lavergne is a music teacher and musician that travels with artists that are signed with Universal Records — Latin singer Alejandra Feliz and rapper J.R. — both of which have agreed to share the program’s song on their social network pages.
“Basically what we want to do be able to do with the song is to bring healing to those people in Florida. The goal is to be able to implement both music and video with a theme of kids coming together in unity and being able to be the support for these families where this tragedy happened,” Lavergne said.
“Our goal for this song is to be an inspiration and to let Florida know that the AMPP program in Massachusetts is standing by them and supporting them and trying to raise awareness that this isn’t right,” he added.
Lavergne’s nephew, 16-year-old Jun Aviles, a student at Burncoat Senior high school, said, “It’s really fun.”
Aviles, originally of Florida, is working on mixing the Parkland song, while learning how to use the mixer. “I’m still learning, but I know most of it right now. I like doing this and it’s something I really look forward to it,” Aviles said, who hopes to do sound mixing as a career someday.
When the kids have completed their song for Parkland, the next step will be to being working to the ultimate goal of holding a concert at the end of the year. According to Lavergne, the goal is for the kids to assume the roles of both producing the concert and performing in it.
“The ultimate goal is that we will be the ones supporting the kids, but they will be the ones running the show, singing, promoting the concert, and handling the filming it,” Lavergne said. “We want them to be the headliners of the show and to use positive music to make a great big concert.”
There are around eight kids consistently involved in the program and, according to Bennes, the program will cap around 12 to 15 kids to stay with the program throughout the year.
“It’s not that we don’t want a ton of kids in the program, it’s that we want to handle them in a qualitative way. I want who’s here to be actively involved in the process,” Bennes said.
The kids in the program are referred through contacts with Bennes and some kids have been referred from the Friendly House, Worcester Youth Center and Straight Ahead Ministries.
Bennes said, “If there are kids that are interested and want to come in and see what the program is like and what we’re all about, that’s great and I welcome it. The idea is to reach these kids and show them that cops are people too. We want to continue to improve the relationship between the community and the police department, in a way that we don’t normally do.
“We do it with sports and the gang camp and it’s always been successful. Why not here? Why not with the arts and music?,” he added.
Jeremiah, 14, a student at Claremont Academy, is working on the timing of his own music and for the music the program is making. He will begin learning the drums soon.
Bennes said, “If Jeremiah has a song in his head, we’re going to help him with the lyrics and help him with creating a sound to that thought, whether it’s with the piano, guitar, drums, beats or all of them.”
“I like coming here every day. It gives me something to do every day. I want to produce music and do beats,” Jeremiah said.
“It’s pretty cool coming here,” added 15-year-old Phil Giarusso, a student at Worcester Tech and self-taught guitar player who has even taught himself some piano.
WPD’s Communications Director Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst said, “Any time we interact with the youth through programs that have been developed with the gang unit or other divisions within the department, it always gives us good results and it’s an opportunity for the officers to meet kids on other terms other than law enforcement.”
Hazelhurst added, “We’re here to show these kids that we’re people too. We’re fun. A lot of these guys are great guys with great senses of humor and the kids get to see that side of it. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of good relationships developed. This is their passion and we’re tapping into that. These guys are pretty dedicated and are doing a great job organizing it.”
The program is currently working on partnering with Worcester Wares, the Sprinkler Factory and the Worcester Art Museum’s program: Juvenile Probation and the Arts Alternative.
The song and video for the Parkland victims will be released within the coming months.