Ben Folds’ charitable initiative, Keys For Kids, supports seven nonprofits in North Carolina to provide keyboards and music lessons at little or no cost to children.
Born and raised in Winston-Salem, Folds is a singer-songwriter and the frontman of Chapel Hill-formed alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. Now, at age 55, Folds has said he has a desire to give back to North Carolina.
“Basically what we do is connect the dots, encourage, fundraise and get involved in any way we can, but the important thing to know is that these organizations already exist,” he said. . “And without them, a lot of kids wouldn’t have access to music early on.”
Keys For Kids is a public-private partnership with the North Carolina Arts Foundation and the North Carolina Arts Council. Folds said he partnered with those organizations and North Carolina First Lady Kristen Cooper to decide on the first seven Keys For Kids partners.
He said the seven nonprofits were chosen from multiple locations so that resources are distributed evenly across the state.
“It’s a huge thing,” Folds said. “It’s very important – it’s changed my life. The desire to help and give back is where it all started, and the journey has taken us so far to be in touch with these seven organizations to start. They were chosen to be as diverse as possible, location and all, so it wasn’t all going to one place.”
Keys For Kids currently focuses exclusively on North Carolina organizations, and several of the seven nonprofits are based in the Research Triangle.
Kelley Downey, executive director of Musical Empowerment at Carboro, said the organization offers free music lessons for young children and involves UNC students as mentors.
“We serve K-12 students on a variety of instruments, with piano and guitar being the most popular, and so he chose us as one of the organizations he wanted to partner with,” she said.
She said she appreciated the “extra boost” because Musical Empowerment does not receive government funds and relies on companies, individuals and foundations like Keys For Kids for support.
Downey added that the support comes at a perfect time, as Folds brings more visibility to the organization on its 20th anniversary.
“In the big picture and the grand scheme of things, it’s a small piece of the pie, but we’re so happy to have every little piece of that pie,” she said.
Kidznotes, a non-profit organization based in Durham, is another partner of Keys For Kids. Executive Director Shana Tucker said she was thrilled Kidznotes was one of the organizations selected.
She said the funds will not only help children learn to play the piano, but it will also open the door to musical arrangement and accompaniment for students who play other instruments.
“Our philosophy discusses and advocates access to creativity, regardless of your financial situation,” she said. “We believe that creativity makes human beings more human and, more importantly, as one of our core values, we believe that everyone has the right to access creativity, for us in particular through the music.”
Folds said he hopes to continue supporting all seven organizations and add more in the years to come.
He said that while he doesn’t know how many Keys For Kids organizations will be able to support in the future, he said it was important that he continues to grow and that the end goal is to positively affect as many lives as possible.
“We do as much as we can,” he said. “If we can bite 30 of them, great.”
Donations to Keys For Kids can be made here.
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