Kids like Kai are thriving through OrKidstra’s return to in-person programming 

3 MIN READ

“It's really great to be back with everyone after two-and-a-half years of being online.”

Kai

OrKidstra—a United Way East Ontario partner—is an after school social development program that empowers kids in Ottawa’s under-served communities by teaching important life skills through music.  

“Music education can be very expensive and that’s a real barrier for kids from under-served communities, under-privileged backgrounds, or low-income neighbourhoods,” explains Rebecca Russell, Senior Development and Communications Officer with OrKidstra. 

“OrKidstra lifts those barriers. It welcomes everyone into the program, and it’s so important to have that access for people in all communities, but especially the kids we work with.” 

Helping young people cope through the pandemic

Like many in-person programs, OrKidstra pivoted to virtual in the spring of 2020. 

“The pandemic was hard for a lot of people—there wasn’t a lot of social contact during isolation, you couldn’t really talk to many people,” said Kai, a 16-year-old trumpet player in his fifth year with OrKidstra. “So, it was great to be able to stay in touch with OrKidstra and still have social interactions with really great people through what was a really rough time.” 

We know that the effects of the pandemic continue to negatively affect the mental health of many young people across our region, which has made a return to in-person play that much more important for Kai and his peers. 

“It’s magical to have everyone back in the same room again.”

Rebecca

“There are also a lot of new people that have joined, so I feel like OrKidstra is more alive than it ever has been,” added Kai. 

Kids like Kai are given space to find their groove

Not only is Kai more comfortable in his trumpet-playing these days, but more importantly, he’s feeling comfortable in his own skin. 

“When I first got to OrKidstra I was pretty shy. I was an introverted kid. I wasn’t really great at talking with other people. But over time, being in this welcoming setting, being able to interact with all of these amazing people has helped me to be able to be more confident about myself, and how I look and how I play.”

Rebecca explained that OrKidstra’s goal is to help young people reach their full potential.  

“They learn important life skills, responsibility, teamwork, listening, confidence, empathy, and that’s all through learning to play music together.” 

Kai said his self-confidence and public speaking abilities have improved over the years, and he’s even taken on more of a mentoring role with new kids coming into the program. 

“[Kai’s] really blossomed being here,said Rebecca. “He’s become a real leader, a real mentor for the other kids and he told us that his grades have improved since he’s been here in the program. So, he’s really just someone that the kids look up to and such a talented young musician also.” 

Supporting a bright future for local youth

Students attending school in low-income neighbourhoods may lack access to safe, affordable, positive after-school activities. Without support, kids may end up falling behind. 

United Way partners with front-line agencies to deliver vital programs and services that help improve lives, break down barriers, and create opportunities for our region’s most vulnerable people.

Thanks to our donors, our investments in homework clubs, as well as after-school and summer programs throughout our region, help improve students’ grades, self-esteem, leadership and career skills, and relationships with both peers and adults—ultimately improving high school graduation rates. 

In 2021, we saw more than 2,000 local youth participate in out-of-school time programs and/or receive individualized support. 

All of the kids who have graduated from the OrKidstra program have graduated high school and have also gone on to post-secondary education. 

United Way believes that every child has the right to a good life, and a safe place to grow up, learn, and make good friends—no matter where they live or their personal circumstances.

Help every kid reach their full potential, in school and in life. 

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