Marching to the beat of their own drum

April 21, 2023


Donor-supported music programs strike a chord with young Winnipeggers

One guitar.

That’s how it all started—with a single, six-stringed instrument politely requested by a handful of teens eager to learn how to play.

It was a simple idea that struck a chord at Teen Stop Jeunesse, a donor-supported agency nestled in the heart of St. Vital.

“Our success is in that all the ideas come from the youth,” explains Pat LeBlanc, the agency’s former executive director. “They’re the ones who let us know where they want to go.”

And where they wanted to go was far.

Within a few short years, that one shared guitar grew to a crescendo, culminating in a robust youth music program and a fully equipped recording studio operating five days a week.

Dozens of perfectly tuned bass, acoustic, and electric guitars now line the walls at “TSJ Studios,” with a couple of drum kits and djembes snuggled into the corners of the room. Kids ages eight to 18 can be mentored in anything from ukulele to vocals to music production.

A wall of brightly coloured guitars hang in the music studio at Teen Stop Jeunesse
TSJ Studios is made possible with the help and generosity of United Way Winnipeg donors.

But this is no ordinary studio. It’s a haven—a place where kids can find their own voices and rise above the challenges they face.

“Today, we’re seeing more kids involved in drugs and alcohol, or their family life isn’t all that great,” explains Pat, indicating most participants come from low-income homes where affording music lessons is otherwise out of reach.

It’s an opportunity that hits the right note with kids like Evan and Gabe.

Born one day apart, 18-year-olds Evan and Gabe are tight friends and keen regulars at TSJ Studios. Most nights, you’ll find them jamming out together to Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana in between volunteer shifts in the kitchen.

“We have a lot of good memories together in this room,” shares Evan, who’s been learning piano for the past two years.

Gabe, a guitar aficionado, nods smilingly in agreement. It takes him about an hour and two buses one way just to get here every night—a trip he feels is well worth the trouble.

Two youth, one holding a guitar, smile proudly in the music studio at Teen Stop Jeunesse, a donor-supported agency.
Gabe (left), and his close friend, Evan, are eager students at TSJ Studios.

Because this place is special. Here, a youth struggling with ADHD or anxiety can find a sense of calm. A pair of siblings who don’t feel safe at home can take refuge. A kid falling short at school can have a platform to shine.

“It’s a place youth can feel it’s their own, that they’re wanted there, that someone’s going to listen,” says Pat.

Singing their praises

Over the past two decades, hundreds of youth have walked through the welcoming doors of TSJ Studios.

Some have since broken into the music industry and even found tremendous success, from performing at major events like Winnipeg Folk Festival to travelling with Cirque du Soleil and popular bands as sound technicians.

But to the staff at TSJ Studios, every kid is a rock star—no matter their skill level.

18-year-old Evan and Gabe jamming on the guitar and piano at the music studio at Teen Stop Jeunesse, a donor-supported agency
“There’s so much variety here, and you can come anytime," gushes Evan (left). "I’ve been to other drop-ins before and there’s never anything like this!"

“We want every youth to leave feeling like they’ve accomplished something, and many don’t get that feeling at school,” explains Pat.

“Here, they’re seen as having all the potential in the world.”

Pat recalls how much it meant to one youth in foster care who had the chance to take the stage at a well-attended United Way Winnipeg event.

“I don’t think I’ve seen someone prouder. He was over the moon,” said Pat. “It was like he got to be a superstar for a few moments.”

A network in harmony

Sparking confidence drives Teen Stop Jeunesse to do what they do and is one of the pillars in building up healthy, resilient kids.

That’s why, with the generosity of United Way Winnipeg donors, even more music programs across the city are fueling the social, emotional, and cognitive development of youth.

North of TSJ Studios, tucked away in the neighbourhood of Point Douglas, Graffiti Art Programming’s Studio 393 zooms in on the profound effect music programs can have on kids’ education.

“When kids are regularly involved in formal art and music programs, they score 18% higher in Math, Science, and English,” remarks executive director Stephen Wilson, pointing to numerous studies underscoring the far-reaching benefits of creative programs.

“That’s a huge advantage!”

18-year-old Evan practices piano in the music studio at Teen Stop Jeunesse
Whether he's playing Nirvana or Chopin, 18-year-old Evan is in his happy place behind the piano.

It can give a much-needed boost for kids struggling with their mental health, too.

A few blocks from Studio 393, kids who might be reckoning with anxiety, depression, and other challenges can find a healthy form of expression at Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba’s free Music, Art, and Dance camp every summer.

In fact, a former participant credits the camp’s supportive atmosphere for saving his life. Because while music itself can be a tool for healing, the real magic comes from pairing it with community.

The chance to make friends and build a support system they can count on is what Evan and Gabe most love about TSJ Studios, too.

“It’s brought me through the ups and downs,” says Gabe.

Last summer, Gabe’s family moved to a different neighbourhood, forcing him to switch schools for his grade 12 year. But thankfully, his friends and the staff at TSJ Studios offer the consistency and community he’s needed during a turbulent time.

18-year-old Gabe holds a guitar while seated against a colourful backdrop of perfectly tuned guitars in the music studio at Teen Stop Jeunesse
Gabe has been a regular at TSJ Studios since he was 12 or 13 years old.

“I don’t think we could find people who care more than the staff who run these programs,” shares Pat. “They want these kids to succeed and are willing to go the extra mile.”

The nurturing environment staff cultivate extends beyond teaching pitch or chords, too.

Staff aren’t just mentors in music. They’re mentors in life, there to help youth navigate everyday problems and stresses.

“There’s a lot of help here,” says Evan, mentioning how much staff have helped ease his anxieties about graduating high school this year.

Gabe agrees, proudly noting he’ll be the first in his family to finish high school. After he graduates, Gabe dreams of becoming a music teacher at one of his favourite places: TSJ Studios.

“It’s like my second home.”

Teen Stop Jeunesse is a donor-supported youth drop-in centre offering recreation and volunteer opportunities, hot meals, and homework programs to spark personal growth and development in a safe, secure, and fun environment.

Since 1998, Graffiti Art Programming has provided youth with a safe and accepting space to build artistic skills, confidence, and character. United Way Winnipeg donors support a range of services, including free after-school art and music lessons, youth leadership development, and exhibit space for emerging artists.

Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba is a self-help organization dedicated to providing support, education, and advocacy for those living with a mood disorder, co-occurring disorders, or other mental health illnesses.


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