By John Lynds
Sitting in her office at the Zumix Firehouse, Zumix co-founder and director Madeleine Steczynski reflects on how far East Boston’s youth music and empowerment program has come since its days in a living room on Meridian Street.
“We are in this amazing moment thinking who would have ever imagined we would be here looking back on 25 years,” said Steczynski. “But in that moment we are trying to envision forward 25 years and what do we want to be as we continue to be here to serve this neighbor, evolve with the changing needs of the community and continue to be a sustainable, outstanding program for youth.”
Like a lot of good ideas, Zumix started in someone’s living room. Co-Founders Bob Grove and current Steczynski founded Zumix in 1991 as a response to Boston’s worst wave of youth violence. Zumix began as a summer songwriting program with 24 youth, $200, and the simple idea that giving youth something to be passionate about could transform lives and elevate communities.
Today Zumix serves over 500 youth per year through after-school and summer programming and 500 through in-school partnerships. Over 10,000 additional adults, children, and families attend its community events and festivals.
The goal 25 years ago, said Steczynski, was to give children an alternative place to channel their focus – youth development through music and related arts.
“In 25 years our mission has remained the same”’ said Steczynski. “What has changed is the magnitude of our program. We currently work with over 1000 kids every year from our local communities. Not only do we teach them music and related activities – we offer them a safe haven; someplace where they will always feel accepted and be given encouragement. Our staff help young people develop trust, and build self-esteem, and we have seen so many great success stories from our students.”
Zumix does in fact get great results.
In 2011 they received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from Michelle Obama in the White House, the highest honor our country has for youth arts programs.
In the last four years, 100 percent of Zumix seniors have graduated from High School, over 90 percent have gone on to college, and this year alone a number of students received prestigious scholarships.
“But most importantly, every day hundreds of kids are learning both concrete and life skills that will help take them on a pathway to achieve much success in life,” said Steczynski.
Beginning next month, 2016 will be a big year for Zumix as they prepare to celebrate their 25th anniversary milestone.
“We are very they are proud to introduce our new Board President – Steven Snyder – who has worked at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and in this community for many year,” said Steczynski. “He brings unbelievable energy and passion that is rooted in his love for music and the community.”
Snyder will be replacing former President Chrissy Holt.
“I feel very honored to serve Zumix, follow in the footsteps of former President Chrissy Holt and other great past leadership, and work with Zumix’s amazing staff to accomplish their mission”, said Snyder. “Now more than ever, given the challenges this community faces with teen violence, Zumix and organizations like them are extremely important.”
Snyder said directing children to something positive in their lives can impact them forever and of course helps society.
“Zumix just completed a big year, highlighted by DiverCity Band opening for Grammy Award winning artist, Sting,” said Snyder. “As part of Zumix’s 25th birthday year, we plan to make even bigger art, create even bigger awareness of our mission and hopefully gain bigger financial support for Zumix operations. Zumix, which operates out of 260 Sumner Street in a fantastically renovated Firehouse, has maxed out on space. The current wait list for some classes is as high as four years.”
Zumix plans to celebrate their 25th Anniversary in Eastie with a series of special events throughout the year, including an announcement soon to come regarding a new low power FM radio station led by their youth. There are also plans underway for a big block party celebration in the fall and a year-end birthday celebration next year to thank supporters.