By Erin Grabinger
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
Kids at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch are making music—they are learning how to play the ukulele! The ukuleles at the Fargo campus are being lent to use by Grace Lutheran School, and the Minot ukuleles were donated by a couple that goes above and beyond for our kids. With their generosity and a special discount from the ukulele company, Deaconess Kelly Jacob's dream of teaching the kids to play the ukulele became possible.
"Our kids are fast learners," said Deaconess Kelly, Spiritual Life Coordinator on the Minot campus. "It's been so fun to watch them learn and have fun."
Some of the kids had already memorized a few songs by the end of the first week and were proud to perform for Ranch staff.
Paul Krueger, the Senior Development Officer who worked with the donor couple (and an accomplished musician himself), was excited to facilitate this musical opportunity for the kids. "In remarkable ways, music provides healing," Krueger said. "Being able to focus and learn this simple instrument brings joy and success to our kids—joy and success that can transfer into other parts of their lives."
Research has proven Kruger's assertion that music is healing. According to a study by Stanford in 2007, "Music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions, and updating the event in memory." In addition, a 2011 article by Harvard Health Publishing said that "learning to play an instrument may enhance the brain's ability to master tasks involving language skills, memory, and attention."
Knowing the healing power of music, the Ranch makes it a priority to incorporate it into kids' lives. We provide mp4 players and earbuds for children who use music as a coping skill. Spiritual life specialists and wellness coordinators load the players with a child's favorite music (screening each song for appropriateness, of course). Each child's treatment team works with them to create rules for when, where, and how they can listen to music, and to define the consequences of breaking the rules.
The addition of Deaconess Kelly in July 2018 brought new musical opportunities to the Minot campus—she is an accomplished musician and works with interested kids to provide music for chapel services. She also plays and sings with the kids at special events, helps kids prepare songs for a talent show every quarter, and fosters the talents of the kids who have additional musical interests.
Katie* is one Ranch kid who has worked with Deaconess Kelly. She grew up loving music and had many fond memories of playing guitar with her father when she was younger. When he passed away, Katie stopped playing guitar entirely. That is, until she began working with Deaconess Kelly. Earlier this year, Katie met with Deaconess Kelly to practice a song for chapel. She told Deaconess Kelly she had just reclaimed the guitar her father had given her, on which he had etched her initials. That week she had picked it up for the first time since his passing. Katie told Deaconess Kelly she cried when she first played it again because it reminded her of her dad and their shared love of music.
Although Katie didn't play her guitar at chapel that week, she did sing one of her favorite songs, "Oceans" by Hillsong UNITED. Her mother came to chapel to water her daughter sing. Before the service began, Katie played the guitar for her mom and they both shed tears. Since then, Katie has continued to improve her guitar skills, and music has become an important part of her healing.
In Fargo, ukulele lessons are being taught by Spiritual Life Specialist Jay Shaefer. He also leads groups of kids to play and sing for chapel and teaches those who are interested, how to play guitar, drums, and other instruments. He set up a recording studio in a school closet and teaches kids how to record their own music. This fall, Schaefer, who is a licensed North Dakota teacher, is joining the Ranch full-time, which gives Dakota Memorial School, Fargo, the opportunity to add a music elective. The additional time he spends on campus will also allow Schaefer to provide more spiritual support and guidance to the kids.
Kids are making music at the Ranch, and for Katie and many others, music plays an important role in healing.
*Name changed to protect the confidentiality of our kids.
This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Summer 2019.
Read more stories like this and explore other issues of Ranch Voice here.