“It’s really not about the music. It’s about the kids and their development and their growth. Music is what gets them in.”
It’s a typical afternoon at West End House, a Boys & Girls Club in Boston, where a cacophony of drumbeats competes with the sound of dribbling basketballs and fitness classes. “This is a relief of stress for me,” a 17-year-old enthuses over the din. Rapping and performing on the drums, bass guitar and keyboard “is how I express my feelings and get everything out. It gives you that confidence that you can do whatever you want to do.”
That’s the idea behind this Music Clubhouse and 17 additional ones in Massachusetts, Texas and Georgia. They’re part of a network being built by a retired tech executive and amatuer jazz guitarist as a way to draw in teenagers vulnerable to other temptations, who often drift away from youth centers like West End House and the other services they offer. “It’s really not about the music. It’s about the kids and their development and their growth. Music is what gets them in,” says Gary Eichhorn, that former CEO.
Eichhorn, 63, is leading a tour of West End House, including the Music Clubhouse that his Music & Youth Initiative has equipped with top-of-the-line instruments, recording equipment and iPads, on which the teens write their own songs. Music “is a logical magnet for kids,” says Eichhorn, especially at the ages when they start to forgo community centers for less productive distractions. “That’s when kids have a lot more choices but also when it’s most important to keep them here,” to get other services such as hot meals, homework help, and college and career advice to boost their odds in life. “The music is a really important way to recruit and retain them.”
Eichhorn’s music philanthropy was inspired, in part, by his own love of guitar, which he took up when he was 8 and dropped before picking it up again at 40 — “My midlife crisis,” he jokes. But he also brings his 30 years as a CEO and adviser to venture capitalists and start-up companies to the practical way he’s set up his organization, which provides advice and seed funding to partners that then must find their own sources of support and become financially independent within five years.
“Their job was to teach us how to do this. It’s got a great sustainability element to it,” says Daphne Barlow Stigliano, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth, which has Eichhorn’s music clubhouses at two of its locations, with plans for another at a third.