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UCLA Optimists

In 1997, Margaret Martin had an experience that would change her life forever.

Her 5-year-old son was playing Brahms on the violin at the Hollywood Farmers Market when a group of teenage boys closed in around them.

Her first instinct was fear.


But she quickly realized the young group just wanted to listen to the beautiful piece by the young violinist, and it warmed her heart.

All images via Harmony Project, used with permission.

This sparked her idea for Harmony Project — a program that promotes positive development for at-risk teens through the practice and performance of music.

No stranger to hardship, Martin is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, and she was homeless for a year. She still managed to put herself through college, studying Social Science. By age 43, she received her master's and doctoral degrees from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

That day at the farmer's market inspired her to help others access the kinds of educational opportunities she found — no matter their background.

“I view it as a human rights issue because I believed every child that shows up at school deserves a chance at their own complete education,” she says.

During her studies, Martin learned that an impoverished environment, i.e., life in a “poor household or violence-fueled neighborhood,” could potentially alter a child’s brain development and prevent them from learning.

Studies have also shown, for example, that for mothers who have not completed their high school education, the reading and math proficiency of their children was deeply impacted.

Martin was confident that music — especially collaborative music — could help these kids boost their academics.

“We call it mentoring through music,” Martin explains.

Through musical education — specifically, teaching kids to play instruments in group settings — Martin's program was founded on the belief that music had the potential to positively benefit a child's academic studies.

A study of Harmony Project kids showed improvement in their brain's ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, which is a skill linked to literacy. The benefits reaped from playing and listening to music occur in the same areas of the brain that are traditionally weaker in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Therefore, strengthening one area strengthened the others.

In other words, these group music lessons help their brains develop and become more receptive to new knowledge.

By learning the language of music and performing with confidence, the kids involved in Harmony Project can go on to mimic the lessons they learn in music class in their everyday lives, helping them in all their school subjects and improving their grades.

Today, the program is helping over 2,000 students from low-income areas in Los Angeles.

A study of Harmony Project students found that those who were more engaged with the program showed increases in reading scores, while those kids less engaged did not show improvements.

In addition, an overwhelming 93% of Harmony Project seniors have enrolled in college in the past decade.

This is all the data Martin needs to know that her program is making a difference in these kids' lives.

Many of the kids love the program so much they use their weekend time to make a two-hour round-trip commute on Saturdays.

One former Harmony Project student named Paolo Sayo says that he enrolled in the program in sixth grade as an immigrant from the Philippines. Without Harmony, he and his family didn’t have the resources to continue his violin lessons.

Once he enrolled, not only did he get the lessons, he also got better at music practice, and his grades in other subjects went up too.

“Before I joined, I hated the practicing aspect of violin. I just wanted to get it over with,” Sayo says. “After a while, I started appreciating practicing more. Having that discipline transferred to my school work, where I eventually became an honor student.”

Today, he’s studying to be a health care administrator, but his time with the Harmony Project was so beneficial that he has decided, 10 years later, to remain a mentor for current students.  

The program has a 2-4-year wait list, so Martin is working hard to help expand the program.

Harmony Project is also winning recognition. In 2009, it took home the Coming Up Taller Award at the White House, the nation’s highest honor for an arts-based youth program, from President Obama.

Martin is hoping to use the accolades to help expand the Harmony Project nationwide. Music education and other arts programs have been claiming to boost overall grades for decades, but there’s nothing like a handshake from the President to prove that it’s striking the right note and people are taking notice.

Images provided by Pacifico

Making waves in the best way

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At last, summer is here. And for many people, that means it's time for heading to the beach and maybe even catching some waves. Surfing is a quintessential summertime activity for those who live in coastal communities—it’s not only really fun and challenging, it’s also a great way to celebrate Mother Nature’s beauty. Even after a wipeout, the cool water mixed with warm sunshine offers a certain kind of euphoria. Or, you know, just hanging back on the sand is plenty fun too. Simply being outdoors near the ocean is its own reward.

pacifico quiksilver beach cleanupLet’s protect the places where outdoor adventure happensAll photos provided by Pacifico

However, it's well known that our beautiful beaches are suffering the consequences of overcrowding, pollution and littering. What was once a way of playing in nature is now slowly destroying it. And of course, this affects beachgoers everywhere. The sad truth is—without taking action to preserve all the natural joys the earth provides, we will eventually lose them.

But there is hope. Two popular brands that both have roots in surf culture have teamed up to help make trips to the beach a more sustainable pastime. The best part? You don’t have to know how to hang ten in order to participate.

Pacifico®, a pilsner-style lager originally brought to the U.S. by surfers, and Quiksilver, an iconic apparel company loved by both surfers and beach goers alike, have created a brand-new range of clothing and accessories with sustainability in mind.

Take a look below. These threads are great for all kinds of fun in the sun, without compromising the environment.

pacifico quicksilver beach cleanupsReady to make some waves

The collection launches on July 5 and includes tees and woven shirts, boardshorts, hats, flip-flops and a special beach towel and tote bag. The unique collaboration features the vibrant, colorful designs that are the hallmark of Quiksilver combined with Pacifico elements, created to make a positive impact.

Each item has been thoughtfully curated to minimize an environmental footprint and protect the outdoors. The hats, for example, are made from NetPlus® by Bureo®, a raw material created from South American recycled fishing nets. Additionally, the board shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles, and tees are made with 100% organic cotton. Pretty rad stuff, to put it in surfer lingo.

The prices on these pieces are equally rad, ranging from $28 flip-flops to $60 boardshorts.

In keeping with the sustainable ethos and protecting the places we play, Pacifico and Quiksilver will celebrate the products’ launch by hosting two beach cleanups. The first is on July 5 at Sunset Point in Malibu, California, from 4-5:30pm, and the second is on July 9th at Deerfield Beach in Florida from 8:30 – 10:30am.

pacifico quicksilver clothing lineCleaning up and looking good while doing it

Theses beach cleanups are open to anyone over the age of 21 who’s ready to have some fun while taking care of nature’s playground.

Those who can’t make it to the beach (bummer, dude) don’t have to miss out on all the fun. The new collection will be available on July 5th at www.quiksilver.com/mens-collab-pacifico. And even if you don’t surf, never plan to surf, have no desire to even be near a surfboard, rest assured, the apparel is still cool. Plus sustainable choices are always good fashion.

Our planet provides us with an endless supply of beauty and adventure. But without more mindful actions from humanity, its natural wonders will eventually diminish. Fortunately Pacifico and Quiksilver are making it easier than ever for people to enjoy the great outdoors without jeopardizing it. That’s a wave worth riding.

This article originally appeared on 09.06.17


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