By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Renae Noriega is building an ark. It is not an actual flood she is trying to save community youths from, however, but rather the cyclic tides of drugs, violence and underachievement.
The Killeen resident said her vessel is made of music, not wood.
"It came to me in a vision," said Noriega, 49, of World of Jamming Music Plus One, or WOMJ+1, a free music appreciation program for local young adults, ages 12 and over, set to begin Saturday with an orientation session at the Killeen Community Center. The program will not only teach students with an interest in music and other arts technical skills, but also how to market themselves as artists.
Central to the program is the value of education, said Noriega, its director.
"How can you manage your millions if you can't count?" she said. "How can you read and negotiate a contract if you can't read it?"
It took Noriega, whose own son is an aspiring musician, five years and two partners to make her vision a reality. Harker Heights musician and youth educator Keith Morrow, 46, will lead the program's musical component, while members of the Central Texas College SIFE chapter, or Students in Free Enterprise, will teach life and entrepreneurial skills, such as resume building and managing a budget.
Morrow, a retired law enforcement officer whose Upward Challenge academic success program positively impacted the community from 2005 to 2008, said he is excited to instill the value of education in his students through music.
"It motivates them and gives them a sense of self-worth by utilizing their artistic talents," said Morrow, who also works as an artist developer. "They have to keep a 70 per cent in the program and in their current schools."
One of Morrow's former Upward Success students, Tre Calhoun, 17, of Copperas Cove, will be involved in WOJM+1. Though he and Morrow share a passion for music, he said there is no doubt where Morrow's priorities lie.
"He is always, 'School first, and music later,'" Tre said. "He's grounding us."
Chastity Clemons, one of SIFE's faculty advisers, said approximately 20 college students are preparing to assist with WOJM+1, and give back to the community in the process. She praised Noriega's efforts.
"I loved her vision and what she was trying to do for the youth of our community," Clemons said.
The program is entirely funded through grants and private donations, Noriega said. Staff members are volunteers.
Program classes will be held at two locations, the Kouma Community Center at Fort Hood and the Killeen Community Center. Students will be divided into two groups, ages 12 to 17, and 18 and older, to address different needs. The first phase of the program will run for eight weeks, while second and third phases are planned for committed students, who may eventually make and distribute their own demo tapes.
This, however, is only the first step in Noriega's and Morrow's plans. Eventually, they said, they would like to open a full-time arts school in the community.
"It's about keeping them on the right track," Noriega said. "It's about your pride."
For more information on the program, call (888) 687-9290, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559.