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Empowering Young Volunteers: A Musical Journey of Inclusivity and Integration

In the heart of Aberdeen, a transformative organization called Music 4 U has been creating ripples of positive change for the past 18 years. Founded by Debra Baxter, who identified a gap in opportunities for young people, especially those struggling academically, Music 4 U has evolved into an integrated stage school with a commitment to inclusivity and integration. We talk to Debra and delve into the organization's journey, shedding light on the significance of accommodating young volunteers.

Can you provide an overview of Music 4 U's journey from a small project to a thriving integrated stage school?


We started as a response to the lack of music and creative opportunities for young people in schools. I recognized the need for inclusivity and initiated the Music Makers project, focusing on providing opportunities opportunities for those missing out on music education within schools. The success of this endeavor led to the establishment of Music 4 U, a charitable organization now operating ten different projects.


How do you emphasize youth inclusivity and integration in your programs?


Music 4 U operates essentially as an integrated stage school, working with young people up to the age of 25, with a particular focus on individuals facing physical, learning, or social challenges. The organization reserves a minimum of 40% of its places for such individuals, integrating them seamlessly with mainstream participants. The emphasis is on creating a person-centered opportunity for all young people to explore their passion for performance.


How did volunteering become an integral part of Music 4 U's culture?


From the organization's inception, volunteering has played a crucial role. Over the years, young people involved with Music 4 U became an essential part of its family. Many young volunteers engage formally through programs like Saltire volunteering awards, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and more, contributing significantly to the organization's growth.


What are some typical tasks that young volunteers at Music 4 U get involved in?


Young volunteers at Music 4 U often assist with younger participants, providing support in classes and activities. They can start from the age of 12 and play a vital role in encouraging and working alongside younger participants, showcasing a commitment to mentorship and community building.


Are there specific challenges when working with younger volunteers, and how do you  address them?


Some young volunteers themselves face challenges, particularly those on the autistic spectrum. We provide careful guidance, mentorship, and opportunities for these volunteers, fostering confidence and a sense of belonging. The organization believes in making a difference by truly including young people, both with and without challenges.


What practical steps has Music 4 U taken to accommodate younger volunteers, and what advice would you give to other organizations?


We emphasize the importance of having meaningful tasks for young volunteers, ensuring that their time is utilized productively. Practical steps include training, mentorship, and creating a safeguarded environment. The organization has also ventured into a social enterprise, a coffee shop providing vocational training and employability skills for volunteers aged 16 and above.


How does the coffee shop project contribute to vocational training, and how is it integrated with the main mission?


The Ivories Coffee Shop serves a dual purpose. It acts as a social enterprise, raising funds for the organization, while also providing vocational training for volunteers aged 16 and above. The coffee shop, named after its first donation, the piano, integrates seamlessly with the main mission, offering additional volunteering opportunities and valuable life skills.


Music 4 U stands as a testament to the transformative power of inclusivity and the invaluable contributions of young volunteers. Through its journey, the organization has not only provided a stage for musical expression but has also cultivated a community where young people, regardless of challenges, can find support, purpose, and a sense of belonging.

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