Bluegrass Musicians Raise Money for Youth Education ProgramEXPAND
Photo by Alyson Aga of Aly Aga Photography

Bluegrass Musicians Raise Money for Youth Education Program

Colorado musicians are doing more than making music: They're making a difference in the community.

In June, banjo player Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters will join forces with guitarist Tyler Grant and bassist Adrian Engfer, both of Grant Farm, at the fundraiser I Heart Camp, to help raise money and awareness for the Denver nonprofit education group The Heart & Hand Center for Youth and Their Families. The group is working to bridge the summer learning gap for Five Points youth.

Westword caught up with Natasha Ballard of Heart & Hand to talk about the event and her group's work.

Westword: What's the story behind the I Heart Camp show?

Natasha Ballard: This is the first year of the I Heart Camp event. We're thrilled to share aspects of Heart & Hand’s summer mission with guests. Heart & Hand has provided summer programs to Denver youth for eight years. Over the years we have grown from 25 to more than 100 students, and we've partnered with numerous businesses and community organizations.

This year we're excited to be working with Denver Public Schools' Summer Academy to help students needing extra educational support throughout the summer. We started the I Heart Camp fundraiser to share the fun and enriching experiences that we provide for our students with the adults in the community and to raise money so that we can continue to reach more kids with these summer programs.

Could you share a bit more about the evening?

Beyond enjoying an amazing concert, we want our I Heart Camp event guests to experience a “grown-up” version of our summer program: where they have fun, experience different activities and enjoy time with friends, all while learning more about the needs in our community. Five Points and the surrounding areas are in a time of rapid change, and we want to share our students’ stories.

The money raised will provide programming to combat summer learning loss, which is a key contributor to the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers. On average, students’ achievement scores decline over summer vacation by about one month’s worth of school-year learning. Income-based reading gaps grow over the summer. While middle-class students tend to show improvement in reading skills, lower-income students tend to experience loss. So providing summer programing to our students helps close the opportunity gap.

The event is a 21+, so none of our students will be at the event. However, guests will learn about our students, and their attendance will provide the opportunity for youth in the community to attend Heart & Hand’s eight-week full-day summer program, which provides a safe place for our kids to be during the day. It includes academic time, enrichment activities such as swimming and dance, and field trips.

Bluegrass Musicians Raise Money for Youth Education Program
Chris Pandolfi. Heart and Hand.

Who are the kids that you serve?

The youth and families served by Heart & Hand confront many economic, social, and political challenges, yet they come from a vibrantly diverse community. Heart & Hand’s program participants represent the following demographics:

  • 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
  • 67 percent of families live in households with incomes under $25,000.
  • 88 percent of students’ families utilize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • 80 percent of students live with a single parent or guardian other than their biological parents.
  • 80 percent of students’ moms and 88 percent of dads have not earned a postsecondary degree.
  • 30 percent of students have a parent or guardian who has been incarcerated.
  • 64 percent of students’ guardians do not work full-time.
  • 93 percent are students of color.

Can you tell me more about your organization, Heart & Hand?

By creating a nurturing community, the Heart & Hand Center empowers all young people to realize their potential. We envision a world with no opportunity gap, where all children have access to the resources, skills and information they need to build vibrant futures. Heart & Hand Center was founded in 2010 by Nikki Cady, whose volunteer work at homeless shelters in northeast Denver brought to light a need for a stable resource in the community. The Heart & Hand Center provides nurturing, long-term support for third- to twelfth-grade youth in northeast Denver through daily after-school and summer programming focusing on academic enrichment, social emotional skills, health and wellness, family engagement and creative expression. What makes Heart & Hand unique are the meaningful enduring relationships we develop with children and their families. In addition to the programming we provide for young people, we also provide families with resources and referrals for critical needs such as housing, food and emergency funding.

How did the musicians get involved?

Creative expression is core to Heart & Hand. Our founder, Nikki Cady, was inspired to start the organization after coloring with a little girl who was waiting for her foster care court hearing. The little girl drew Nikki a picture of a house and told her that it was the house she wanted Nikki to build to help kids, so the little girl would always know where to find her. Nikki started developing Heart & Hand that day. As we thought about how the fundraiser might work, it was obvious that art brought people together, and we wanted to feature that, so luckily Chris Pandolfi, who is a friend of ours, was able to get his friends Tyler Grant and Adrian Engfer from Grant Farm to join in to create an intimate musical experience for us. We're excited to share this one-of- a-kind performance to support kids in northeast Denver. We are also excited to have Five Points natives City Force performing jazz and R&B to kick off the evening.

I Heart Camp Concert (with Chris Pandolfi, Tyler Grant and Adrian Engfer), 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, June 8, Exdo Event Center, 1399 35th Street, $75-$125.

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