During the COV-19 outbreak in March 2020, DeKalb County Public Schools officially announced closing of all its schools due to pandemic. School children living in the District 1 of DeKalb County were going hungry as most were dependent on schools for their daily meals.
DeKalb County Public Schools System had organized daily meal distribution to cluster neighborhood centers for their meals to be picked up. The setup was not as accessible for the working Hispanic families living in District 1 especially around the Buford Highway corridor.
Majority were hourly wage earners and many were dependent on public transportation to move around. Many disadvantaged families in District 1 were left starving and without any access to fresh meals during the shutdown.
Juana Alzaga, a retired educator and an advocate for underserved Hispanic families, volunteered to teach English to young children from disadvantaged families. She works with We Love Buford Highway, a non-profit community organization, to offer free food to these families in District 1.
Alzaga, who has a background as a public school music teacher for over 32 years. During her regular engagement with parents, Alzaga learned of these children's negative mental state, frustrations, and anxieties due to the lockdown. She believes music lessons could help the children mental development especially during the pandemic inactivities.
Lily Pabian, Executive Director of We Love Buford Highway, decided to collaborate with Alzaga to develop a music program for these disadvantaged children. Alzaga started recruiting young children between 3rd to 5th graders for the cohort. The first music theory lessons started with 10 students via Zoom on May 11, 2020. Musical lessons with musical equipment soon followed by June 2020.
“The COV-19 pandemic crisis has evolved into an opportunity for the disadvantaged families to engage with school teachers. It is also a self-building experiences for these young learners. It was very rewarding to witness the shift in the young children's development,” said Pabian.
By August 2021, Alzaga was ready to recruit its second batch of young cohorts. Her passion and reputation started to grow in the community. This time around she easily recruited 25 young children as many parents in the area are eager to sign up for the program.
“I am truly inspired by the parents involvement and sacrifices that they are undertaking. These parents work together to make sure every child have access to meals and music lessons. They organized carpools to transport the students for lessons,” adds Alzaga.
“We are also planning a field trip for these kids to experience their first symphony concert later this year. As you would have imagined, there are a lot of details and organizing involved.”
Alzaga and Pabian are also working towards forming a Buford Highway Youth Orchestra. They hope to host two public concerts with the youth orchestra by Spring of 2022.
In their minds, the orchestra will be an avenue for these underprivileged children to build their confidence and aspirations for a better future.
“Playing in an orchestra changed my life, but I started late and by that age it took much more work on my end to catch on. This project is super personal for both Juana and I; she was my teacher and mentor over thirty years ago, and I want the children of Buford Highway to have that too,” said Pabian.
We Love Buford Highway is actively seeking charitable donations and sponsorship for the Youth Orchestra. The organization is also expanding the Youth Orchestra musical program include multicultural students in the community.
“As we grow, we want to make aware and opportunity for all immigrant children, beyond their heritage,” adds Pabian.
Details of the fund raising effort can be found on their website: https://www.welovebuhi.org