As the founder and executive director of a music related Community Benefit Organization (CBO), I constantly think of how to more effectively leverage the power and potential of music to impact lives and exert positive community impact. After almost eighteen years of leading MFE, I have come to appreciate that when it comes to potential broad and deep community impact, music is an uncommonly powerful tool because it is the universal language. In short, music is a gift that keeps on giving because the ability to apply its influence and outcomes to a wide range of community challenges and issues are endless.
While MFE’s fundamental mission has remained the same since 2006 (to cultivate the power of music to impact lives and change communities), due to the universal nature of music, our areas of impact have grown significantly. We started out primarily focusing on education by supporting school music programs by providing instruments, instrument repair, instructional support, and through after school and summer camps.
But as we’ve learned more about how music’s universal nature provides opportunities to impact other community needs and challenges, we expanded our efforts to further leverage that power to address them. As a result, we now apply music’s power to bring people together through public events of all sizes as well as sponsoring “open to all” music groups such as the MFE Chorus and our ukulele group, the Ukulele Uprising, all of which provide opportunities for people to connect through music and contribute to the city’s (Lancaster, PA) efforts to build and brand itself as an arts community and destination.
We are also leaning heavily into what may be music’s next great frontier: applying it as an individual therapeutic and public health tool that is demonstrated specifically through our grant program that supports programs and initiatives that apply music to generate positive health outcomes. One example is our Music for Every Vet program, where we partner with WriteFace, a CBO that uses poetry to help veterans process their struggles with PTSD by providing songwriters and musicians to put their words to music.
And in response to the George Floyd murder, we established our Songs For Justice (SFJ) project. SFJ is a convergence of music, spoken word, visual art, poetry, and history, as well as discussions highlighting various issues around human rights and diversity. While some may consider that a “stretch” of our mission, it clearly is not, as music has been at the center of virtually every human rights and social justice movement in the history of mankind. Again, the universal nature of music allows this initiative to fit comfortably into our broad mission, as was recognized by The Presser Foundation, a major funder of this project.
Further, we were able to take our efforts on this front to another level thanks to a Special Projects grant from the Foundation for our “Music with a Mission” initiative. The grant enabled us to partner with the Lancaster YWCA and its Race Against Racism, allowing us to provide musicians and bands at the start/finish lines and bands at each of the four-race checkpoints.
One of our most fundamental organizational guiding principles is the belief that music transcends all nonprofit work and causes. Its universal nature has allowed us to partner and collaborate with close to eighty different CBOs and community groups, from Meals on Wheels to the Boys and Girls Club, from Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition to the Lancaster Bail Fund, and from Church World Service’s Immigrant and Refugee Program to the Lancaster Education Foundation, to not only leverage these partnership synergies for greater community impact but also to help these CBOs elevate their missions.
In other words, we are using music and investments from funders like The Presser Foundation to supplement and strengthen our mission to cultivate the power of music to impact lives and change communities.
It is why music is the community impact tool that keeps on giving.
This article was featured on The Presser Foundation.