Seasonal Edgartown resident and philanthropist Ernie Boch Jr., president and CEO of Subaru of New England, visited Alex’s Place Teen Center at the YMCA in Oak Bluffs Wednesday afternoon to present a $6,000 check and a dozen acoustic and electric guitars valued at more than $3,000.
The teen center was the beneficiary of a grant from “Music Drives Us,” a nonprofit foundation Mr. Boch created to support “innovators who strive to preserve and produce musical opportunities for all communities throughout New England.”
The money will be used for the YMCA Teen Center’s Adrenaline Music Project, a program for teens between the ages of 13 and 18 interested in pursuing music.
“We were really excited because we’ve applied for the grant for a few years now, and we finally received it, which is great,” YMCA Director of Mission Advancement Sarah Soushek said Wednesday. “It’s really nice to have him invest in an Island program that’s aligned with his passion of providing music education for children.”
More than a dozen kids sat in Alex’s Place, some strumming guitars, when Mr. Boch visited the teen center. “This is unbelievable,” he said. After checking out the recording studio in the back of Alex’s Place, Mr. Boch took to the stage to present the check.
“Many, many studies have shown that if you put music into schools, no matter what age, and even after school, music makes people better,” he said. “Music is a language unto itself.”
He spoke about the need for passion, because “music won’t let you down.” He then presented a plaque to Tony Lombardi, Teen Center director, and Laurel Redington, MVY radio production director, to an eruption of applause from the kids.
“It means more to me than you will ever know that you, as an Islander, are in this building and in this room,” Mr. Lombardi said. “I’m thrilled for you to get to know some of the best kids on the planet, and to help us make this dream come true.”
The brief ceremony included a guitar performance by student Kasey Stevenson, who sang an original song, “Stay.”
“Kasey is a representation of a lot of what’s in this room right now, these young people who are finding their way to music through their heart and their desires,” Ms. Redington said. “So Ernie, thank you so much again for supporting that.”
As Mr. Boch shook hands with the kids and posed for photos, Mr. Lombardi spoke about the program that the money will help fund. The Adrenaline Music Project began six years ago. “We were in the basement at the other end of the Y, and we started doing music programs there,” he said.
It became so popular, Mr. Lombardi and Ms. Redington decided to expand the program. They started a weeklong summer program, and brought in teachers from Berklee College of Music, and performers from all over the country.
“It was so successful that we just continued to grow it,” Mr. Lombardi said.
Additionally, they hold monthly open stages and concerts at Alex’s Place, provide lessons to kids who aren’t able to get them in school because of their schedule, and make them free so they’re available regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
“Because we’re isolated on the Island, we try to bring in the troops from everywhere and pull these programs together,” Mr. Lombardi said.
For years, Mr. Lombardi said they only had one acoustic guitar in the office, and it was getting used a lot. Now, with 12 guitars of their own, there’s plenty to go around. The $6,000 will go toward having a professional instructor and quality instruments, Mr. Lombardi said.
“We’re indebted to Ernie for consistently supporting music for kids across the country, but also for doing more for Martha’s Vineyard than most people realize,” Mr. Lombardi said. “He really is quite a guy.”
Mr. Boch is well known for his generosity on Martha’s Vineyard, which has included funding a new rescue boat for the Edgartown police department, funding a new police vehicle for the Island K-9 officer, funding the Tisbury eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., allowing the use of his property for a boat-building educational project, and helping the Aquinnah fire department to purchase a personal watercraft that can be used for water emergencies in Aquinnah and surrounding towns.