By Cynthia Boyadjian
This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.
Austin Fitzgerald recently graduated from The Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Having always been passionate about playing the violin, she received one of the $10,000 HGU Build a Better Future scholarships for her work in developing the Mindstrings program in her local community. Her father works as a teacher in the local public school where she saw first-hand the disadvantages that these students face every day. After seeing the vast difference between public and private schools in Charlotte and the lack of funding in public schools, she felt compelled to action. Through Mindstrings, she devotes a large portion of her time interacting with and helping low-income students to implement music into their education.
The Mindstrings program is currently in place at Sedgefield Middle School in Charlotte North Carolina where she works closely with the school orchestra. She has been able to give free violin lessons to students at the school in both private and group settings, where she also provides the instruments. With permission from the principal at Sedgefield, she is able to use the school facility to the hold the group lessons and has been able to continue this throughout the summer. For the private lessons, she travels to the students and teaches them in their homes. When I asked Austin how she feels that this has impacted her community, she said that this hasn’t just impacted the students, but also their families. She is welcomed into their homes and they are very grateful for what she is doing for them.
Austin is a self-proclaimed introvert and this program has helped her to put herself out there to be more outgoing. She has also refined her presentation and networking skills through the process of creating, designing, implementing and maintaining Mindstrings. Through her desire to increase funding for Mindstrings to take root in her community, she has gained confidence in herself to present her ideas and gain those relationships. In doing so, Austin was successful in gaining 3 violin donations from the Charlotte Latin Service Council as well as the Latin Arts Association
One of her biggest hopes for Mindstrings is to be able to expand the program to more schools. She is currently negotiating with a second school in the area to get the program going for the upcoming school year! Austin is also working on implementing Mindstrings as an officially sanctioned volunteer opportunity for upper middle and high school students in the Charlotte area. With that, she would love to have a formal program within Mindstrings to teach students proper etiquette when volunteering with low-income students. Austin says that she has learned a lot about herself as a person, an advocate and a community activist. She hopes that this will also inspire the participants, to also give back to their communities, building an even larger collective impact. She shares, “By providing the skill of learning to play an instrument or helping in classrooms, these students are acquiring not only the skill of playing an instrument, but also the cognitive skills that come along with it; such as a stronger attention span and the practice of discipline and hard work. It also provides mentorship to students in the program.”
While Mindtrings is currently a small program in Charlotte, she plans on taking it with her while she attends school at the University of Chicago in the fall and hopes that she will be able to expand Mindstrings. She aspires to turn Mindstrings into a non-profit organization, build a website and obtain more scholarships and donations to help her program flourish. After she is able to reach non-profit status, she will replicate herself and establish a board of directors with a Community Development staff of volunteers to continue this work locally. She feels that a strong foundation for students in low-income communities must be provided to access their potential and continue on to a higher education.