Blog by Amanda Rutledge, Marketing and Communication Intern, A Billion + Change

To commemorate the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the amazing volunteers who responded, A Billion + Change is running a blog series to highlight a few outstanding examples of skill-based volunteers who continue to contribute to the growth and resilience of the people and the city of New Orleans.

The impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans was unlike anything residents had ever seen. Leaving behind costly rebuilds—everything from property and the environment to culture and community—in its wake.

Following the damage and devastation of Katrina, school districts across the area faced major budget cuts.

“The arts are really always the first thing to go when the money is tight,” Sophie Gavin, The Roots of Music (Roots) Program Coordinator said.

Derrick Tabb and Allison Reinhardt founded Roots in 2007 in response to school music cuts following Katrina. Tabb modeled the program after his own experiences in a junior high marching band. Students who are part of the program are given tutoring prior to their music instruction, a meal and transportation to and from Roots.

Roots offers instruction on a variety of common marching band instruments including trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn, saxophone, clarinet, piccolo and percussion.

“It helps students connect to something in the community,” Gavin said. “A community that looks completely different than when their parents were growing up. They’re all trying to navigate this new environment. It’s being a part of something that you can take pride in, that you can say ‘Oh yeah, I marched with the Roots.’ You’re not just one kid trying to figure it out alone.”

Roots doesn’t do this all on its own. Each semester, Gavin reports having 50 volunteers fill a variety of roles from tutors, to specialty instructors, to music mentors.

“No matter what volunteers are doing throughout the year, it’s really nice because the mentorship is inherent,” Gavin said. “It’s just so beautiful to watch the next generation being mentored and being brought up by the previous one.”

The majority of their skill-based volunteers focus on the academic portion of Roots, working as tutors and helping the students with their homework or studies.

“So many kids, at so many different schools, learning so many different things, at different times, it’s really tricky to keep up sometimes so without them we would be lost,” Gavin said.

One of the most outstanding music mentors, in Gavin’s opinion, is Mr. Curtis Pierre of the Brazilian percussion and dance group, Casa Samba, who works as a percussion tutor. Pierre focuses on the percussion students at Roots, teaching them Brazilian percussion, even having some of his students perform with Casa Samba during Jazz Fest.

“It’s cool to get them to experience a totally different style of music from what they are used to and from what they’ve been practicing,” Gavin said. “It’s really nice especially when some of the other non-drummers get to participate as well. It’s completely different from what they normally do.”

Roots has played a key role in the lives of its students, something that lasts long after the final shrill of a trumpet or beat of a drum.

“We provide the full package for a student,” Gavin said. “It’s not just the music that we care about, it’s their academics. Are they learning leadership skills? Are they progressing musically? We really take an interest in these kids in every aspect. While our message is music, we work on building a better person as a whole.”

A Billion + Change August 28, 2015