Talented teen recruits others to share her inspiration

socks-2_newMolly Yang is proof that anyone can make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate, given a passion for hard work and a dedication to helping others.

Yang, a recent graduate from Corona del Sol High School, returned last August inspired to help others after teaching the arts to children from six impoverished villages in the Dominican Republic.

After talking with her parents, Yang realized she didn’t need to travel to foreign countries to help others. There were children right here in the Phoenix area who could benefit from her special talents and efforts.

“I traveled to the Dominican Republic for a volunteer trip and helped out with an arts camp there in the summer of 2008,” said Yang. “It was an amazing experience, and I was very inspired by this trip.”

“I decided to start an arts outreach program in Arizona,” said Yang. “There was no reason why students in the Dominican Republic should access an arts program and local students in Arizona shouldn’t have one.”

Yang is a gifted musician. She has been playing the piano since she was five and wanted to share her love for music with less-privileged children in inner-city Phoenix. She found other students at Corona who were also interested in volunteering to help children in the arts and started looking for a place for them to volunteer.  

Nadine Gofonia, the principal at Phoenix’s Augustus Shaw Elementary School, thought she had a good idea but it needed to be developed more to meet the district’s requirements.

Gofonia contacted Dr. Janel White-Taylor, an assistant professor of education at Arizona State University-East Campus, who also directs the Project eXcellence Program. The program is designed to provide quality out-of-school learning environments for underserved K- 12 students by offering site-based courses and unique field experiences.

“The principal at Shaw Elementary asked me to meet with Molly and the other students to assist them in developing a program for children,” said White-Taylor. “Together we came up with the name SOCK-Sounds of the Community for Kids, and an outline of the program.”

SOCK started at Shaw Elementary but Yang was able to expand the program after receiving a grant to purchase more instruments and recruiting more student volunteers. SOCK is now offered at Faith North Elementary, and more schools may be added this summer and in the fall.

Yang and other student volunteers Christian Appleby, Ben Backhaus, Rodney Mitchell, Nikki Ortiz, Amy Royal, Chelsea Huddleston, Chris Hawkins, Cindy Shi, Katie Payne, Mary Kenney, Jennifer Zhu Katrina Farrell and Michaela Wooldridge go out once a week after school to teach students music, dancing and art.

“I decided to join SOCK as soon as I heard they were looking for new volunteers,” said Corona junior Farrell. “I had been looking for volunteer work, and I plan on being a music major in college – it seemed like a win-win opportunity to me.”

“I like kids and needed to start getting in some community service for college so it looked like a great opportunity,” said Corona sophomore Wooldridge.

“I met up with Molly (and) she was just so energetic about it. I went ahead and started helping out some other girls in Shaw until I started on my own at Faith North.”

“SOCK is a wonderful program that teaches so much more than fine arts,” said White-Taylor. “It is a community partnership program that allows high school students to use the pay-it-forward concept. It is amazing to see high school students dedicated and willing to assist kids less fortunate than themselves.” 

What do these high school volunteers from mostly affluent neighborhoods like most about working with kids whose lives are so different?

“I love it when a spark for music is set off in certain kids,” said Yang. “I have a few girls who come back every week and take home a piano book to practice, and I can just tell that they love it.”

“I like it most when the kids are excited about getting better,” said Farrell. “It gets me more excited about teaching when it feels like the kids are learning.”

“I just like it when I know they are having a lot of fun,” said Wooldridge. “It’s kind of hard coming up with projects sometimes and I’m always worried they’ll be bored so it’s really great when I see them getting excited about a project or when they do well and are really proud of what they created.”

Yang and the other volunteers have found that several of the children they work with have special talents that may not have been developed without SOCK.

“I see a couple different kids gifted in different ways,” said Wooldridge, who teaches art.  “Some of them are really talented at drawing for their age.  Others may not be as talented but are just so full of creativity I’m amazed at what they come up with.”

“I have worked with two girls, Maniyah and Mia, who have demonstrated a strong talent in piano,” said Yang. “They both are able to conceptualize more abstract music concepts quickly. Maniyah, in particular, can improvise impressive piano songs.”

What most of these high school student volunteers have learned, though, is how much working with these underprivileged kids has given them in return.

“SOCK makes me feel like I belong to a program helping keep music in schools,” said Yang.

And the kids are all really amazing. Seeing them is inspiring.”

“It’s just been such an interesting experience–it’s really fun working with the kids and getting to know them,” said Wooldridge. “I have also learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when trying to teach elementary school students.”

SOCK is extremely popular at Shaw and Faith North elementary schools. Almost every kid who started the program in August was still attending the last week of school before summer break.

“The students love the program and look forward to seeing the SOCK crew every week,” said White-Taylor.

“Last week, Joshua invited his little brother Caleb to join our group,” said Farrell. “Even though it was his first time and he was allergic to the candy we were giving out for the right answers, he continued to be one of the most musically motivated in the group. Even when I had nothing to give him, he still wanted to learn. It was really inspiring to see him try so hard.”

What started out as Yang’s simple idea to make a difference has turned into an afterschool program that is not only successful but one that will continue after she goes to college in the fall. She’s made sure of that by recruiting more high school students who will work toward making the program even bigger next year.

White-Taylor has volunteers from Mountain Pointe high school lined up for next year and she’s meeting with principals from several other high schools to use the same model within their schools.

“The students from Corona are an awesome group,” said White-Taylor. “I am so excited they made that phone call to the principal to create a fine arts program at Shaw Elementary school.”

SOCK is in need of more volunteers or instrument donations. They need guitar, piano, choir and dance volunteers or donated keyboards and guitars. Contact Molly Yang at mollyisgreen@gmail.com or White-Taylor at cheyna@exchange.asu.edu.

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