For 10 local, music education nonprofits, Feb. 2, 2023, is a day they’ll never forget.

“Wow,” Gilbert Castellanos, Founder and Artistic Director of Young Lions Jazz Conservatory mouths the moment he discovers his organization is one of ten picked to receive a $150,000 unrestricted grant.

Next to him, Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom Founder and Executive Director, Jess Baron, shakes her head in disbelief. On the other side of the podium, Steph Johnson, Co-Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Voices of Our City choir, wipes a joyous tear from her eyes.

The grants stem from a historic, transformative $110 million gift left to San Diego Foundation by the late philanthropist and avid musician, Jay Kahn. 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 advance their work with under-resourced children.

One year since this memorable day, each organization feels his impact.

A Reason to Survive (ARTS)

With the help of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund this past year, A Reason to Survive (ARTS) has been able to strengthen its music initiatives. ARTS offers free after-school arts education to South County youth. In the future, they plan to continue to expand their music programming – making their music and creative services more accessible for youth and teens in the community.

“Thanks to the generous support of Jay Kahn, we’ve been able to connect and co-create with the music community in National City and the South Bay,” Jose Lopez, ARTS Operation Coordinator, said. “Your support has not only enriched our lives through music but has also created a lasting impact on our community.”

Classics 4 Kids

Known for providing free, live music programming to children in San Diego County, Classics 4 Kids expands its reach by providing equal access to more than 38,000 elementary age students. In 2023, they achieved a dream of hosting performances in La Mesa’s Joan B. Kroc Theatre.

“We know Mr. Kahn loved classical music, and I’m sure he would have been amazed to see thousands of students experience the beauty of an orchestra,” said Kiran Shelat, Executive Director of Classics 4 Kids. “We’ll continue making music accessible in under-resourced neighborhoods.”

David’s Harp Foundation

At David’s Harp Foundation (DHF), the organization was able to serve more system-affected and unhoused youth than ever before. Through their music and video programs, they empower young people to achieve academic success through music education. Long-term, the organization is working towards having the young people they serve lead the organization.

“If I could say anything to Jay Kahn, I would say thank you,” said Brandon Steppe, DHF Founder and Executive Director. “Thank you for seeing the vision of what art is and how powerful music is as a platform to be able to develop mentoring relationships.”

Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom

Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom trains, inspires and equips educators to engage students in learning through the joy of making music and the power of song. This last year, the nonprofit has been able to better understand its infrastructure needs and meet the increasing demands for its work in the region.

“Without that support, it could have taken us quite a lot longer,” said Baron. “I’m massively grateful because we’re going to have a great 2024 thanks to you.”

Heartbeat Music & Performing Arts Academy (HBMPAA)

Heartbeat Music and Performing Arts Academy provides affordable after-school music programs in preparation for enrollment at Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs). With this grant, students were given the opportunity to experience HBCUs firsthand by participating in parades in Tennessee and Alabama and having one-on-one conversations with band directors. The grant also helps send students off to audition at the schools they were accepted to.

“By him (Kahn) giving us this opportunity for funding, he’s provided a hope for us to know that our programs will continue in the San Diego community for years to come,” said Tyra Hawthorne, HBMPAA Founder and CEO.

San Diego Symphony

San Diego Symphony makes music a core part of the cultural experience in the San Diego region, but with the help of this grant, leaders were able to expand music literacy programs. For the first time ever, the San Diego Symphony created an eight-to-10-week school music curriculum for local third, fourth and fifth graders.

“I just want to say thank you to Jay Kahn for the wonderful gift he’s given to support our music education program,” said Sherry Bredlow, SD Symphony Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “Thank you for helping the San Diego Symphony impact thousands of children across the San Diego region.”

San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory

San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory provides ‘cradle-through-college’ music education through its flagship ensemble program, neighborhood engagement projects and early childhood music curriculum. The multi-year grant to their programs allows them to be more strategic and further invest into students and partner programs across the region.

“This helps us make a real difference in the lives of young people,” said Michael Remson, President and CEO of the nonprofit. “Philanthropy begins at home and the biggest impact happens when you make change in your own backyard.”

San Diego Young Artists Music Academy

San Diego Young Artists Music Academy (SDYAMA) offers programs in vocal, instrumental, choir, dance and many other positive activities in a healthy and safe environment. This grant enabled the organization to invest in scholarships, purchase new instruments and create a high-quality recording studio.

“In the future, we’re going to purchase equipment that would allow us to have a bigger and better social media presence to reach more youth and special needs children in the Promise Zone community,” said Renea Flenoid, music teacher and leader at SDYAMA.

Voices of Our City

A safe space for many of San Diego’s unhoused neighbors, Voices of Our City reconnects them with hope and housing through the healing power of music, individualized care and advocacy. In 2023, the nonprofit grew its choir to 101 members, created a new original song and also plan to record it in the studio.

“(Jay Kahn’s) legacy lives on in hundreds of people we see every week who have never had music education in their life,” said Johnson.

Young Lions Jazz Conservatory (YLJC)

Young Lions Jazz Conservatory enriches the lives of middle and high school students by inspiring imagination, intellectual curiosity, character and self-confidence through jazz music instruction. On its mission to preserve jazz in San Diego, the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund allowed YLJC to purchase more musical instruments and further expand classrooms.

“It has already proven to help out in so many ways,” said Castellanos. “We have a lot of students that never had expectations of being a professional musician. Now they’re going to college on full rides.”

Kahn’s gift also supported the launch of the San Diego Housing Fund, as well as other Strategic Plan initiatives. More than $86 million will establish the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund at San Diego Foundation so that Kahn’s legacy and impact continues to grow and transform San Diego County for years to come.

Learn More About Jay Kahn

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