Zumix helps empower Vermont School for Girls

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BENNINGTON >> For two decades, a group called Zumix has visited Vermont Arts Exchange and the Vermont School for Girls to spread its message of empowering individuals through music.

The family of teens hail from East Boston, Mass., and come to Vermont every year during their summer tour of performances. Friday night they put on a two-part free concert at Lake Paran. Over time, the girls at the Vermont School have opened up to the Zumix crew when taking part in the various workshops put on during their stay.

On Tuesday, 27 Zumix members and 50 girls were broken up into groups and assigned to rooms that covered topics such as dancing, music making with instruments, writing songs, and singing songs. Co-founder and Executive Director Madeleine Steczynski said one of the Zumix guitarists wants to go to college for music therapy after leaving a workshop at the school.

Jasmine, an attendant at the school, is one who was shy last year during Zumix's visit, but didn't hold back singing with them on Tuesday. She writes poetry and said she's motivated by the Zumix.

"Last year I didn't really do anything with them," she said. "I didn't really talk to any of them. I actually got to singing and stuff (this year). They made us feel like they want to hear our voice and what we have to say."

She said she admires the group coming in to help the girls and showing them that they shouldn't be afraid to say what's on their minds.

This year the Zumix group focused on the theme of Revolution when writing their songs.

"During a time of such chaos Revolution is about bringing things to the center that aren't at the center," Corey DePina, youth development and performance manager said.

DePina joined the program at age 15 and now organizes it at age 35. Steczynski said he has a way of breaking the initial tension in the room when the teenagers are feeling nervous or shy.

"It's turning them around, and this is one day. These guys try to do it every day. I think that's the trick here, is that they're the same age," Matthew Perry, executive director of the Vermont Arts Exchange said.

In the workshops, support staff were present, but the organizers noted that by bringing in a group that is about the same age as the girls, it's easier to get them out of their comfort zone.

"They're a lot more open to the music and trying out new stuff," Zumix member Christian Rios said.

This was Rios' third year working with the Vermont School for Girls and he said their response to the group has gotten better over the years. The first year he worked with them, the school traveled to Boston instead, which shifted their comfort level, but on campus they're less nervous.

After lunch, the Diversity Band from Zumix performed several cover songs for the school.

"When we play our music it's going to be a lot more intimate, I guess, because we have more of a sense of who we're playing for. We worked with them in groups and got to talk to a lot of them and know a lot of them by name now," Zumix member Sarah Coelho said. "Compared to other gigs, you're playing to random people and you don't know who you're playing to, and what they're story is. But here, we kind of have a sense of our crowd, which makes it a whole lot more genuine too."

Zumix started in 1991 in response to Boston's era of youth violence. It began as a songwriting program during the summer with 24 youth and $200. It quickly expanded and in 1993 the group put on a free Summer Concert Series. Now, the program works with more than 500 youth per year via after-school and summer programming.


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