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Nonprofit wants to help CASA kids carry a tune
Amped Kids aims to provide music education for children in foster care
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Amy Stanitzke, center, a member of the advisory board of AMPED Kids Foundation, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Gainesville, takes a selfie with other attendees during the foundation's launch party. AMPED Kids Foundation aims to empower foster children by providing music lessons and scholarship programs. - photo by David Barnes

A new “School of Rock” has struck a chord in Gainesville with the launch party this week of Amped Kids Foundation.

“Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives of children who are in the care of the (Hall-Dawson Court Appointed Special Advocate) organization in Georgia through private music instruction and band scholarships,” Amped founder April Rooks told The Times. “My passion is to give every child the opportunity to pursue their music interests and dreams.”

How to help

For more information, visit the Amped Kids Foundation website.

 The CASA program provides trained volunteers to advocate in court for the best interests of abused and neglected children, most often those in foster care system.

Rooks has volunteered with CASA “for a number of years,” she said, helping with fundraising and advocacy on behalf of these disadvantaged children.

She said she has seen how CASA volunteers, through various programs and outreach, work with children to improve their lives and ensure they have as many opportunities as their peers.

But Rooks saw one untapped opportunity that she wanted to get wired for sound.

“It was just kind of one of those epiphany moments — a ‘God moment,’ if you will,” she said. “I know the power of music in my own life. We need to bring the power of music into the lives of these children.”

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April Rooks, founder of AMPED Kids Foundation, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Gainesville, speaks with John Messerchmidt, left, during the foundation's launch party. AMPED Kids Foundation aims to empower foster children by providing music lessons and scholarship programs. - photo by David Barnes
Rooks said she initially wants to offer private lessons in voice, guitar, piano and percussion so the children can gain a sense of their natural talent or interest in music.

It can also serve as therapy.  

“When you’re stressed or going through difficult life challenges, you can just sit down and play and focus on that,” Rooks said.

Music teaches children valuable life skills and helps build their self-confidence while they learn to play and perform with and for others, Rooks added. Studies also show music helps with a child’s brain development.

For example, a 2016 study by the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute reports that exposure to musical experiences at a young age improves a child’s language and reading skills.

And the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation reports that learning to play a musical instrument helps students improve their math skills.

Rooks said most children in the CASA network do not have the opportunity for private musical instruction or to even participate in school band or choir largely because of financial restraints.

Amped will help pay for instruments, provide lessons and cover expenses for things like band camp.

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Prizes on display during a silent auction, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Gainesville, during the AMPED Kids Foundation launch party. AMPED will host a youth talent show Saturday, March 23, 2019. - photo by David Barnes
Rooks described school bands as a tribe, “a group of people that just belong together,” and she hopes that kind of connection and camaraderie will benefit CASA children.  

But these children also frequently wind up in foster homes, sometimes in neighboring counties, which can make access to musical education difficult.

Rooks said she hopes to grow to a point where a brick-and-mortar presence is necessary, but for now the focus is on building a network of instructors and lesson locations across North Georgia.

In particular, she is looking to partner with churches that can provide dedicated teaching space.  

“That would be really helpful for us,” she said.

Amped has benefited from the support of the North Georgia Community Foundation in Gainesville, which has helped it launch sooner than might have otherwise been possible.

Michelle Prater, president and CEO of the NGCF, said one of its missions is to support up-and-coming nonprofits, like Amped Kids.

“One of the ways we do that is by helping get their start,” she added. “We become (Amped’s) fiscal sponsor, so they have the opportunity to develop their strategies, boards, processes and donors while having the support and strength of our organization behind them. We’ve had the opportunity to do this many times in our history, helping nonprofits like the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, WomenSource, John Jarrard Foundation and North Georgia Works, to name a few.”

Having a fund where people can donate, managed by NGCF has helped “us get our feet wet in the nonprofit world, and it helps us to focus on the mission,” Rooks said. 

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Attendees mingle inside Hunt Tower in Gainesville, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, during the AMPED Kids Foundation launch party. The foundation aims to empower foster children by providing music lessons and scholarship programs. - photo by David Barnes
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