Laura Wood, executive director of Kids in a New Groove, is impacting the lives of youth in the foster-care system, one note at a time.
By Lauren Jones, Photos by Marshall Tidrick and Swing Productions
Music is at the forefront of our culture, a pulsing rhythm to our lives. It defines decades, days and even the smallest of moments. For students at the flourishing Austin-based nonprofit Kids in a New Groove, music and melody have come to represent hope in a world full of constant change.
The organization’s bubbly and passionate executive director, Laura Wood, joined the organization in 2013, sparked by her desire to further help those in the foster-care system. Having worked previously as the director of intake at a national child-placement agency for ve years, the transition to Kids in a New Groove was an obvious choice for Wood.
The nonprofit provides one-on-one 30-minute music lessons to foster children throughout Austin. If student wants to learn music theory, how to sing the latest Taylor Swift hit or even become the next John Coltrane, the organization is there to support his or her dreams by pairing students with volunteer music mentors.
A unique aspect of the program, Wood says, is that mentors go to students’ homes and move with them if and when they move. And with children moving homes an average of six times throughout their time in the foster-care system, this personalized approach grants students a sense of stability.
With more than 150 children in the Kids in a New Groove program, each presents a special case.
“There isn’t a typical Kids in a New Groove student. [The age range] really shows that the program works for everyone,” Wood says, noting the youngest is 5 years old and the oldest is 22. “Kids in foster care have grown up around Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers and foster-care workers who know the ins and outs of their story. Then we come in and we aren’t involved in the system. We are just there to talk, learn music and be there for them.”
Although the organization, founded in 2009, is still relatively small, there have been numerous student success stories. Wood vividly recalls the story of a 13-year-old girl.
“Before joining KING, she wouldn’t talk to anyone. Her mom was a drug addict and her dad wasn’t in the picture,” Wood says. “Her life had been difficult, but the treatment center she was in wanted to put her in voice lessons.”
After months of lessons, the young girl began to show progress, using music as a way to express her emotions. At her first Kids in a New Groove recital, she performed a moving original song, which she dedicated to a friend who had committed suicide.
“It was incredible to see this kid who could have hurt herself or run away, but instead put her feelings into a creative outlet,” Wood says. “That’s difficult for anyone at any age to do, especially a child that has been through what she has been through. Her performance brought tears to everyone’s eyes.”
There are many other stories of similar impact that clearly exhibit the power of the program.
“We’ve been around long enough that now we have alumni students who have graduated from college and are playing shows around town,” Wood says. “We keep in touch with them and make sure they are on the right track.”
Kids in a New Groove is much more than just a program through which foster kids can learn music; it’s a community, a support system that acts as a bridge to a better life, a ray of optimism Wood is inspired by daily.
“We’ve thrown birthday parties for students because some of these kids have never had one before,” Wood says. “We’ve also attended graduations and helped students connect with the right people in the Austin music scene.”
For foster children in Travis County, Kids in a New Groove provides invaluable services through the power of music, leading the charge for healing, self-expression and lifelong success, guiding the way for kids, from novice to maestro, to find a new groove in life.
To learn more about Kids in a New Groove, visit kidsinanewgroove.org.