This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

Walking through the doors of San Diego Young Artists Music Academy (SDYAMA), everyone is made to feel like family. Down the hallway, Renea Flenoid – one of SDYAMA’s music teachers – conducts a Friday lesson.

“Show me the song you learned at home,” she asks her student as she plays a cheery tune on piano. By practicing music both at home and in class, Flenoid hopes students learn some valuable life lessons – including a creative outlet.

“What I really want them to take away [from this lesson] is organization and order,” Flenoid said. “But there are a lot of times they can’t express themselves through words.”

Keying into Emotions: SDYAMA History

Founded by George and Robbie Hill, San Diego Young Artists Music Academy’s mission is to enhance the lives of children and youth through music as a deterrent to drug use and violence.

At the organization’s start, the Hills noticed that children in the area were extremely talented, but didn’t have much to do in the community.

Through choir, piano and other music classes, SDYAMA serves several students in the San Diego community – but particularly serves many children in the San Diego Promise Zone, an area comprised of the City of San Diego’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Through the years, Flenoid has noticed music’s impact on students in the Promise Zone.

“Kids have turned around. So many, it’s like thousands,” she says. “They get to express their pain or whatever they’re going through with music. I think that’s what really transforms them.”

Generations of Impact

SDYAMA is an inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grant recipient. With the grant funding, staff purchased new equipment and built a brand-new recording space for students to produce high-quality audio and videos.

In that recording room and studio, a choir of students sings along to Jason Mraz’s “Have it All.”

“Here’s to the lives that you’re gonna change. Here’s to the infinite possible ways to love you – I want you to have it all,” they sing.

San Diego Young Artists Music Academy

The song’s lyrics provide a relevant message the staff at SDYAMA hope resonates with the students singing it. Bobby Allen, current SDYAMA board president, leads the group through the song. He is also a former student at SDYAMA. The impact he has felt is one he aspires to pass down through generations of SDYAMA musicians.

“There’s a lot of discipline required to grow musically. I love music because it helps you think in different ways,” Allen said. “Your approach to problem-solving is broader. You have to dedicate yourself.”

Allen also highlights the lesson and importance of collaboration, working together and playing on larger platforms with other people. Over the years, SDYAMA has partnered with the Jason Mraz Foundation. Some of SDYAMA’s young artists have performed on stage with the famed Oceanside-based musician.

Through opportunities like these, SDYAMA hopes students find their voice, purpose and passion.

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work in the community. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn.

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is the San Diego Young Artists Music Academy. Its mission is to enhance the lives of youth through music as deterrents to drugs and violence.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.