Bowie resident Toni Lewis’ music and education nonprofit started as a single scholarship donation in the amount of $1,500 to Prince George’s Community College in 2004.
Ten years later, the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education helps about 1,200 Prince George’s County students annually through education programs, scholarships and events, and donates tens of thousands of dollars worth of musical equipment to county schools.
While Lewis said she has no background in music herself, she said she recognized the importance of offering musical and creative opportunities to children and providing them possible career paths.
“I have a love for music and I’m very interested in promoting education,” she said. “I wanted to merge music and education because I started doing research and realizing that music is a major factor in getting students to focus. I realized you can’t really separate the arts from [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].”
One of FAME’s major initiatives is a summer music technology program that teaches middle and high school students to create and produce music using computer software.
Around 60 students participated in the summer program this year, many of whom received scholarships through FAME’s donors, which include organizations like United Way and The Prince George’s Community Foundation, Lewis said.
Program instructor Bill Evans said students involved in FAME’s summer programs have access to computer labs, recording studios and production software at Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, College Park. He said the students are generally quick to learn the software, which allows them to create musical sounds from scratch or mix pre-recorded instrument sounds.
“[The students] respond really quite well,” he said. “It becomes increasingly simpler each year to [teach them] the technology and show them what is possible.”
Lewis said she wanted the summer program to teach students music production and technology because she felt those skills would be increasingly value to students entering the workforce.
“Technology is where it’s going to be,” Lewis said. “If they can develop their [technological] skills, it’s transferable. No matter what their career is, they will always have these skills.”
Daniel Ross, 17, of Clinton said he is an aspiring music producer and attended the summer program to gain some practical knowledge about pursuing a career in music.
“I really like music, and I feel like of all the things to influence people, it’s the strongest one,” he said.
Ross said the summer program taught him how to troubleshoot and manipulate software to get the desired result.
“Mistakes will be made, but there is always a solution,” he said.
Lewis said her goals for FAME’s next 10 years include obtaining a building to hold classes and programs as well as a collection of musical instruments for students to use. She said she also hopes to emphasize reading skills by promoting books written by musicians.
“This is what I’ll be doing to my last days — supporting kids — because that’s where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “It has been [10 years] of really hard work, but the only regret I have is that I didn’t start it sooner.”