Salvation Army hopes free music program can open doors for kids
Daniel Simmons says a music program he joined years ago at the Salvation Army in Elgin changed his life. Now he brings his own kids back to where he started so they can get the same experience.
Simmons, who lives in Hoffman Estates, grew up down the street from the Salvation Army's Elgin community center on Douglas Avenue. He said that during some difficult times his family went there for services and support. That's where his mom signed him up for the free classes and they handed the first-grader a cornet.
"It really opened my world to different possibilities," he said. "A lot of our focus was trying not to be homeless, trying not to be poor, trying to get food."
Simmons learned the cornet and moved on to the tuba, but also learned to play the piano and drums in the classes as he progressed.
"To have a space to learn the instruments that I learned, which I heavily use today with my children, was super valuable," he said.
After a hiatus, the program is back and is in its third year as "Kidz Jam." Open to kids 4 and older, classes are available in basic rhythm instruction, brass, drums, ukulele, guitar and piano. The classes are free, and the Salvation Army provides the instruments. Kids can take them home with a $10 refundable deposit.
Classes are once a week for about an hour with two sessions each year, one in the fall and then another picks up in January until the summer. Each session finishes with a concert.
Kids in the music program also have the opportunity to go to free summer music camps offered by the Salvation Army.
Captain Rich Forney said studies show kids who learn music have an easier time learning in general. Having a free program like this that removes cost barriers is important for the community they serve.
"Developing a new skill in an area that they didn't realize they could excel in, that unlocks doors and opportunities and helps them see the world a little bit differently," Forney said.
"They may pick up an instrument, realize it's not for them and move on, but for those who want to stick with it, we have people here who can surround them and nurture them in that journey and continue to move them forward."
Forney, who grew up taking the Salvation Army classes as a kid, said they have a plan in place to work with students and staff at Judson University's music department.
"There are college scholarships available for musicians and opportunities out there for kids that some of these parents never considered to be an option," he said.
"We want to open those doors for families, open their eyes to what could be."
Simmons took what he learned and went on to play in the Larkin High School band.
After graduation he went to training college to become an officer for the Salvation Army.
He's been a captain for 10 years, working at their central office in Hoffman Estates.
Now he brings his three kids back to the same location to take the same classes he did.
"The biggest thing is passing it on to my children," Simmons said.
"My mother did the best she could with what she had, and one of the best things she did was bring me to the Salvation Army."
His 6-year-old daughter Amelia was in her second trumpet class Tuesday.
She said she likes the sound the trumpet makes and is looking forward to playing in the concert with her dad.
"I'm just a little bit scared that everybody is going to yell boo," she said.
The program currently has about 25 kids, with space to add another 20 when the next session starts in January.
They're looking for more students to join their drum academy, where they learn basic drum skills, such as rhythm patterns, reading music and eye/hand coordination while drumming on Home Depot buckets.
Simmons said learning to read music is like learning another language.
"It crosses cultures. Even if you can't speak the same language as someone, if you can read music you have that connection."