Musicians help at-risk children heal through song

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Dearborn Heights — Singing in unison, the voices of two dozen girls filled the room — and the hearts of their audience at the Vista Maria treatment center.

“There is a war going on and no one can see ...,” they sang, bringing some in the crowd to tears.

Out poured the performers’ emotions — the pain of abuse and abandonment, the peace of healing and the joy of giving and receiving love.

The girls, many of them victims of neglect, sexual abuse and other trauma, performed for an audience of peers, volunteers and family members Friday, culminating a weeklong workshop where they created and sang their own music.

Shepherding the teens through the creative process were the members of Lost Voices, a group of professional musicians who use poetry, music and songwriting to help children recover from trauma.

“Sometimes the battle is harder within yourself than with others,” said Mike Ball, a guitarist who founded the group eight years ago. “Music is therapeutic and it’s healing. These girls had the courage to literally put their heart on display and really show themselves.”

Ball and fellow group members Jen Cass, Annie Capps and Eric Janetsky partnered for this project with Vista Maria. Founded 130 years ago as a Catholic orphanage, the center provides treatment, support and education for girls who are trying to overcome hardships ranging from homelessness to physical abuse.

Because a number of the girls in the program are sexual assault victims, The Detroit News is not naming them.

During the week-long session, each girl was given a notebook to record her thoughts, which would eventually be turned into songs.

“The girls that participated in Lost Voices are farther along in their journey of healing,” said Angela Aufdemberge, CEO and president of Vista Maria. “Talking about it helps with the process of first being a victim, to becoming a survivor and then eventually becoming an advocate. These girls are smart, they are being empowered and have a bright future ahead of them.”

One of the participants, a 15-year-old girl, wrote a poem about her mother, who died five years ago.

“I really liked participating in this program because it helped me cope with my anger,” she said. “My goal is to one day be who I want to be.”

Another girl, 17, had to overcome her fear of singing in front of others for her solo performance of a love song she wrote.

“I have never sang in front of people before,” she said. “This week I have learned to express myself and be more open. I’m gaining more confidence and the staff really helped me to believe that I can really do this.”

In one especially heart-wrenching moment, Cass performed a song one of the workshop participants wrote that detailed how she overcame her experiences with neglect and abuse. The girl left the program earlier in the week and went home.

Cries and screams erupted from the audience, and some had to be escorted from the room.

“I couldn’t begin to image the things that these girls have lived through,” Ball said. “The rediscovery of self and self-esteem is one of the most important things that comes with healing. Music helps. These women are the future mothers of the next generation. Why wouldn’t we help them?”

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