Music to Kids’ Ears: Local musician helps lessen the stress of homelessness

Lucy’s Hearth opened as a small overnight shelter in Middletown in 1984. They grew with the needs of the community, expanding and becoming a 24-hour shelter, affiliated with Family Service of Rhode Island and accredited by the Council on Accreditation. They are now in a 9,300 square foot facility to better support families in need. 

Mark Gorman is a local musician who started holding Christmas concerts, called Singing for Shelter, 12 years ago to benefit Lucy’s Hearth and The McKinney Shelter. Singing for Shelter sells out each year and has raised $64,000. The always anticipated event also led Gorman to fall in love with everyone at Lucy’s Hearth. He was invited to join their board four years ago and became chairman of the board in June 2019. 

Gorman, interested in sharing his musical skills, decided to test the waters and see if any of the children living there wanted guitar lessons.

“I decided to see if there might be any interest in having me teach guitar to the kids, and the response has been very positive,” Gorman says. “Many of these kids have never owned an instrument and never taken music lessons.”

Gorman says that Lucy’s Hearth is one of only three shelters in Rhode Island that accept children, with usually about 35 of them living there at any given time. The agency helps stabilize families and find permanent housing for them, with a 92% success rate. There is a children’s activities director and a full-time therapist who help kids deal with the trauma and stress that comes with living in a shelter. Gorman felt that adding guitar lessons would benefit the children in countless ways.

“It brings me a lot of joy to give the gift of music to these kids,” Gorman says excitedly. “They really look forward to our Tuesday guitar class and they have a lot of pride in the instruments they receive. I think it brings a sense of normalcy to the kids.”

Gorman gives both group and one-to-one instruction. Children as young as 6 are able to participate. He stresses the importance of practicing at least 15 minutes a day and attending the weekly lesson, but understands that the children are not always able to find the time to practice in between lessons.

“Regardless of how hard the staff works to keep life as normal as possible, the realities of living in a homeless shelter sometimes means that the only time the kids are touching their guitar is when I am sitting beside them. I’m happy to be sharing some music and some smiles with them and give them something to look forward to.”

Rick Santos, owner of Rick’s Music World, initially donated five guitars for Gorman to use as teaching guitars and five student guitars kids can use during lessons and for practice.

The average length-of-stay at Lucy’s Hearth is 3 to 6 months. While thrilled that some of his students found permanent housing, this left Gorman with a dilemma of what to do with the guitars the students were using for lessons and practice. He felt awful asking the children to give their guitars back, but needed them for others moving in.

“I decided that the only way my guitar program will be meaningful for these kids would be if they left Lucy’s Hearth with a guitar of their own. So, I put the word out through Facebook that I needed good quality, playable acoustic guitars that I could give to these kids as they left the homeless shelter. It would be something they could keep forever. And the response was overwhelming.”

Many people have responded to Gorman’s request for acoustic guitars in decent working condition that don’t need any repair work. Both his musical friends and strangers that caught wind of this need have reached out to him, which has led to numerous guitars being donated. 

“When they receive their very own guitar, their eyes light up,” Gorman says of giving the children their guitar. “Being homeless is hard on adults, and it can be devastating for children. My hope is that this is something positive the kids can take away from what is, for many, a very low point in their lives.”

People interested in donating an acoustic guitar not in need of repairs can email Mark Gorman at mgorman20@cox.net or drop them off to Lucy’s Hearth (19 Valley Rd in Middletown). For more information about Lucy’s Hearth, go to lucyshearth.org  

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