Weehawken music instruction non-profit celebrates 10 years of serving Hudson County kids

United Children’s Music Project will celebrate the anniversary on November 30 in the township

United Children’s Music Project (UCMP) will hold its 10th Year Anniversary Event on Wednesday, November 30 at 7 p.m. at Weehawken’s Chart House at 1700 Harbor Boulevard.

At this special celebration, UCMP will honor supporters: Weehawken Mayor Richard F. Turner; Enrique Márquez Asstistant Dean, Manhattan School of Music; Amelia Gold, Associate Head of School and Director of Arts at Elisabeth Morrow School; and Bernice Fleischer, Assistant Principal of Music Department at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts.

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The music instruction non-profit is located at the former Woodrow Wilson School at 80 Hauxhurst Avenue in Weehawken, having celebrated its 10th anniversary in March of this year. Originally known as the Union City Music Project, UCMP was founded in October of 2011 and came to fruition in March of 2012. The non-profit organization is led by Founder and Executive Director Melina Garcia, a Venezuelan native and Union City resident.

Since its inception as a grassroots music immersion program for 54 Union City preschoolers, UCMP has served hundreds of Hudson County three-to-18-year-olds through its transformative after-school music classes, free instruments, and performance opportunities in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.

“We’re thrilled to applaud – in person – these vital supporters, and especially UCMP’s amazing students, parents, teachers and our communities, for helping UCMP continue serving Hudson County kids the last decade – especially during the COVID lockdown”, said Garcia.

For almost two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, UCMP’s after-school music classes took place online and hybrid for about 120 students starting in March 2020. UCMP finally returned to face-to-face instruction in February 2022 at UCMP’s program site in Weehawken.

While UCMP was set to officially celebrate its decade of service in March, COVID-19 let to its postponement. With the anniversary event slated now for later this month, Garcia is proud of how far UCMP has come.

“I still can’t believe 10 years have gone by since we launched our first cohort of students,” Garcia said. “We began with 54 three-to-five-year-olds, and since we had no instruments, we began our program with the paper orchestra. I had no money, no experience in music education, but what I did have was the unwavering and resolute desire to provide a safe and fun place to children in my area that had no access to music education… This last decade has been filled with so much joy, commitment, uncertainty, and yes, pure grit! But no matter the obstacles (and there have been plenty!) I and all of us at UCMP are making a difference and have chosen to be part of a solution each and every day.”

Brining opportunities to Weehawken, North Hudson, and beyond

Garcia explained how UCMP transforms not only the children and youth enrolled, but also their families and communities. The non-profit offers musical opportunities residents across North Hudson.

“UCMP students regularly get accepted into gifted and talented schools like Union City’s Sara M. Gilmore Academy, NYC’s Special Music School, and Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program,” she said. “Our young musicians also go on to be successful in other areas of their lives. UCMP’s high school graduates have gone on to universities like NYU, Rider, and Rutgers with full scholarships.”

In October of this year, UCMP received its first federal grant, a $20,000 Grants for Arts Projects award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Garcia said that the funds support the non-profit at a pivot time in the wake of the pandemic.

“Right now, children and youth are dealing with the pandemic’s ripple effects of emotional distress and struggles in school,” continued Garcia. “Now more than ever, children need a place to feel safe, express themselves, connect with others, rebuild their self-confidence, and gain skills that will serve them a lifetime. They need a place like UCMP.”

UCMP’s programming is based upon El Sistema, or “The System,” created in 1975 by Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu. According to UCMP, the initiative has rescued thousands of children and youth from poverty, bad schools, drug abuse, and crime in more than 30 countries.

Since 2007, El Sistema-inspired orchestral music programs like UCMP have been operating in over 140 U.S. cities to serve America’s underserved kids. They are seeing decreased school absenteeism, improved grades, reduced youth crime and teenage pregnancy, and increased rates of high school graduation and pursuit of higher education, according to UCMP.

Making sure Hudson County kids from preschool to high school get low-cost, free instruments and high-quality music training just like wealthier counties has been one of UCMP’s focus since it launched its first cohort of students back in 2012. UCMP’s 34-week After School Program operates in-person five afternoons per week, two hours per day from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., with 12 bilingual teaching artists currently instructing 125 local pre-k to 12th graders at the Weehawken site. Private classes are also available.

“Children deserve and need high quality music education that is actually affordable,” said Garcia. “We are delighted to be able to bring such opportunities to the children and families in Weehawken, Union City, North Bergen, West New York, and Jersey City and beyond through our Weehawken-based program.”

For more information about UCMP’s 10th Anniversary Gala, or to make a donation, go to ucmusicproject.org. To purchase gala tickets, go to EventBrite: eventbrite.com/e/ucmps-10th-year-anniversary-benefit-tickets-442973143597.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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