by Jacqueline Zemba, AmeriCorps VISTA Service Member

October 1, 2021



We are a school, an organization, a propeller of hope and creativity, a safe place, a fire starter, a home, a family.


The Institute of Music for Children prides itself in offering transformative arts and music classes to its families in Union County and beyond. We believe in the services we provide because we believe in the healing powers of arts education. We believe that music and arts are meant to ignite a fire in a child’s heart and soul, and we believe it to be so because every single Institute staff has seen this fire firsthand.


Shortly after becoming a part of the Institute team, I realized that the relationships formed were not just with the students, but with the entire families—parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. The question was not only about what the Institute can do for the student. It was an entirely holistic approach, in that the Institute also greatly considers the needs and wants of the child’s familyI found it to be extremely refreshing to see educators not only deeply invested in the lives of their students, but equally as invested in the families of their students. Much of the history of public education points to a universal, status quo approach for every student, without taking into account the child’s life outside the classroom.The Institute is not only invested in forming relationships with the child’s loved ones. The Institute also genuinely cares about what happens after the child leaves the classroom.


As a non-profit organization devoted to offering accessible arts and music education to youth, much of our work is developing personal connections with our students, as well as our families. The Institute of Music for Children is confident that artand music serve as a vehicle for youth to find understanding in themselves, as well as those around them. Our services emphasize the importance of personal relationships, and our staff—made up of administrators, teachers, and Youth Leaders—cherish the connections we make with our students and familiesAlthough classes may have an end date, we wisfor the bonds we form with our families to last a lifetimeThose that come for our music and arts classes stay for the meaningful relationships made.



For this month’s blog post, I wanted to highlight a community member who has a story of finding family at the Institute. We are excited to honor one of our very own Institute and community members, Ms. Vanessa Ferrara, in this new interview.


Ms. Vanessa Ferrara is an Elizabeth native and an advocate for the families and children in the community. She first came to the Institute when her daughter was only four years old. For the past 1years, she has watched her children, Isabella (14) and William (6), grow and thrive in the Institute programs. She has alswatched the journey of her nephew, Chris Torres, work his way up from being an Institute student in 2012, to becoming a Youth Leader, and is now head Administrator overseeing the Institute Youth Leader Program as well as Property Manager. Ms. Vanessa has the unique experience of being an Institute P.A.S.E. setter, having been a Parent, Advocate, Student and now an Employee! She is the Institute Program Associate, which includes managing the Membership program as well as all of our internal fundraisers!!




From left to right: Ms. Vanessa, her children William (6) and Isabella (14), and her nephew Chris Torres



What brought you the Institute originally? 

“I have always been a creative person. I used to dance when I was little. I danced in high school. I did musical theater in high school. It was always important. An arts education is important because I feel like it opens up doors for everything else—having that creativity and culture engrained when little will always open up more doors for you, or will always help you see things differently. We are surrounded by culture. We are surrounded by the arts. So, you know, having that as part of your education was always important to me.”



What was it about the Institute that made you want to stay?

“Well first of all, it was her [Isabella]! She LOVES coming here, and she didn’t want to come anywhere else.


“For the Afterschool, I always knew she was safe here. I always knew I could drop her off, and go do what I had to do for a little bit, and that she would be okay.”



What does the Institute do differently than other afterschool programs?

“A sense of community. You know, you come here, even as a parent, yourwelcomed and you are encouraged to stay and be a part of everything. Even if it's just being in the background, you're encouraged to just be there. You don’t have to do anything, just be here. Your presence is enough.



What does the Institute mean to you?

The Institute for me is home—it’s family. It’s more than just a place to work for me. It has become another family member. Everyone in my house knows the Institute. Thehave done a lot for us personally, for my family. The Institute is my rock.”



What would you say to prospective families who are thinking about arts/music classes for their children?

I always tell them to give it a try. You know, you’re a little apprehensive, that’s okay! Especially coming in new and not knowing what to expect, that’s fine! One of the things I tell parentis that all of us here are parentsso we get it!! I understand that they’re nervous, you know, but just because you are scared, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. I tell William that a lot. You can’t let fear control you. If you’re scared, that’s okay. You just got to keep pushing because there is something beautiful on the other side of fear.