PING! helping music students for 15 years
Oak Park and River Forest High School junior Nora Watkins (left), 16, mentors sixth grade student Kenya Reeves, 12, at Julian Middle School in Oak Park through the PING! program. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 19, 2012 1:19PM
OAK PARK — The group Providing Instruments for the Next Generation is celebrating its 15th year loaning instruments to low-income students in Oak Park and River Forest.
“We believe in putting instruments in students’ hands,” PING! President Susan Parks said.
PING! believes participation in the arts is an essential part of a child’s educational experience.
“Ever since I was little, music has always been a part of me,” senior student and PING! member Kamille Brashear said. “PING! provided the opportunity for me to receive the instrument and helped me learn how to play the flute.”
The program started with a phone call, said founding member Francis Figg. Figg and her friend, Theresa Sauvageau, discussed their children’s end of year concert.
“We talked about how the stage did not represent the diversity of the district,” Figg said. “Both being parents at Irving, we knew that the reason for some of that was financial.”
The two devised the program and invited Pam Risher, George Bailey and Camille Wilson-White to join. The group then went to District 97 for approval.
“I can remember before we started the first year worrying that we would not have any instruments to loan out,” Figg said. “Theresa and I had decided that the worst case scenario would be that we would rent an instrument for one child.”
Fourteen instruments were donated to the program the first year. By year two, 27 children were taking part, Parks said.
This year, about 160 students in Districts 90, 97 and 200 are enrolled.
PING! also provides many enrichment programs for students.
A mentoring program involves Oak Park-River Forest High School students acting as mentors to Oak Park and River Forest middle school students. Each pair meets every two weeks, averaging more than 950 volunteer hours per year.
Parks believes the mentor program is the “best in breed” and unique, since other schools do not offer it.
“These high school mentors are bright and talented individuals. They become both teachers and friends to their mentees,” Parks said. “The program is transformative for the students.”
Oak Park-River Forest senior Leah Sacks enjoys being a mentor to a trumpet playing middle school student.
“I also act as an older friend for my mentee, someone that he can look up to and ask questions to,” she said. “My favorite thing about PING is seeing the improvement in my student and knowing that I am making a difference in his life, in one way or another.”
Brashear first became part of PING! in fourth grade and had mentors through elementary and middle school “who helped me on the journey of playing my instrument,” she said. “They also helped me learn more about my instrument’s structure and voice.”
Other enrichment programs include music workshops, summer camp scholarships and private lesson scholarships for high school students.
“Most importantly, PING! helped me fall in love with music. I couldn’t thank PING! enough,” Brashear said.
The next step for PING! is helping more communities start similar programs.