JEFFERSON COUNTY - Sometimes the only way to reach a troubled teen is through the language they understand -- music.
"A couple of years ago, I started working with some kids that were at risk, at risk from a lot of things, dropping out of school, running away from home," teacher Chris Van Noy said.
Van Noy wanted to go beyond the walls of the classroom to try to change the path of students making bad choices. He teamed up with another teacher Steve Cram and they formed the Music Appreciation Project.
"A lot of at-risk youth, they don't feel comfortable talking with adults," Cram said.
Music Appreciation Project is a non-profit that provides instruments and lessons to students like Michael Gabriels.
"I guess I get stressed out over a lot of things. I've always struggled with like depression, anxiety, stuff like that," Michael said. "It's very difficult for me to talk to people and express myself."
But, when Michael plays guitar, he says, things change.
"It just comes naturally to me and it feels like talking," Gabriels said.
Van Noy says music can break barriers.
"Working with the kids that we do, when they're depressed, when they're sad, when they're having a hard time, they put their earbuds in," Van Noy said. "They're listening to music and music helps them through difficult times."
Michael used to just play at home. He has can play all styles of music, but he has learned to solo on his electric guitar with the energy and creativity of a heavy metal band.
"It's kinda like my escape, you know, cause, I don't feel emotionally or passionately connected to anything else, you know," Michael said.
But, when he started working with Van Noy and Cram, things started to change.
"The relationship piece is the deal maker," Cram said.
Michael says he now cares about school and feels like his mental health is improving.
"It's changed my life completely, something completely different, you know," Michael said. "I feel like a completely different person, even."
His father Mike says the change since becoming involved with the Music Appreciation Program is astonishing.
"It has flipped his entire demeanor and his life in general, night and day," Mike Gabriels said. "Bad grades to good grades, feeling horrible, feeling exhilarated."
Van Noy and cram offer lessons to students. The nonprofit purchases equipment and instruments for needy students who cannot afford it. They want to give kids a chance to find the guitar hero inside themselves.
"You can see the signs," Van Noy said. "You can see the signs that they need something else."
Now, instead of just playing at home, Michael is actively pursuing a career in music.
"Just a tremendous blessing to see that he's been lifted out of that place and using music as an outlet," Toni Gabriels, Michael's mother, said.
Instead of being lost, Michael wants to mentor other kids who once felt like he did.
"If we're teaching kids to give to help other people, that's beyond the scope of anything we could do and that's been amazing," Van Noy said.
If you want to find out more about the Music Appreciation Project and its fundraising efforts, click here, http://www.musicappro.org/.
"To give them something that they can be good at, I think is what really helps them a lot," Van Noy said.
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