AHA Connects – June 1 Youth Programs

AHA! CONNECTS!   June 1, 2023
AHA! Programs for Youth

With Amberlee Boulton

Over the past 10 years, AHA! has created several programs for young people, including our very first program, Thundertales, which ran intermittently with various funders, facilitators and iterations, for about 4 years, 2013-2016.

Created by Anne Simpson, Thundertales was a creative storytelling program for teens, offering them the opportunity to explore their own life stories through multiple art forms, often with guest professional artists guiding them. The goal of Thundertales was to foster mental wellbeing, resilience, self-esteem and empathy in teens through inspiring self-expression and building confidence. Thundertales also encouraged community connections through engaging local artists and participation in community arts events, to create a sense of belonging amongst participants.

Initially facilitated by Amberlee Boulton, the program’s expansion to other schools in Antigonish Town and County enabled Stacy Doiron, Noella Murphy and Adele MacFarlane to join Amberlee as program facilitators.

Along with their facilitators and guest artists, youth explored visual arts (clay, natural materials, mask-making, paper mache, digital storytelling, video-making, photography, finger painting, creating board games, drawing, painting), writing (poetry, spoken word, fairy tales, blessings and spells, jazz poems), dramatic arts (dance, clowning, improvisation, skits) and music (drum circles, sound, jam sessions). They participated in Antigonight, open mic nights at the library, RK MacDonald Nursing Home events and family showcases.

In November, 2014, this team of facilitators represented AHA! in presenting Thundertales and its outcomes at the Michaelle Jean Foundation’s Power of the Arts Forum in Ottawa. Coordinated by Adele, they also created a toolkit of some of the sessions offered, available on the AHA! website: Thundertales Toolkit (zip)

Comments from Participants:

 “Thundertales was amazing. It was my favourite thing about summer.”

 “This was an amazing program! I think it is great to let creativity loose….”

Comments from parents:

“Remarkable! Wonderful for youth to learn creative self-confidence.”

 “Absolutely essential to getting young people involved in creativity for their overall health.”

Conversation (May 2023) between Amberlee Boulton and Iris, discussing Thundertales, recorded to commemorate AHA!’s 10th Anniversary. Transcribed by Amberlee Boulton.

Click for Podcast (Audio)

Click for transcription (PDF)

After about 4 years, Thundertales divided into two programs. Project Sandbox, led by Brendan Ahern, helped young people create podcasts of imaginary worlds (podcasts are available on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-782903752). Kim Wempe mentored Junior High School students in Songwriting, a program that grew into Music in the Schools, offered not only in Antigonish, but also in Guysborough and Richmond Counties until 2018. Music in the Schools was facilitated by Kim Wempe, Jeremy Holmes, Mary Beth Carty and Keith MacDonald and supported by program coordinators, Rachel Power and Monique Chisholm.
with Junior High School Students
by Kim Wempe

As a fulltime singer-songwriter, I led many workshops and presentations on songwriting and vocal technique. When I walked into the St. Andrew’s Junior School in February 2015, I thought that workshop would be like all the others. Little did I know that it would surpass all expectations and have a profound impact on both the participants and myself.

Hired by Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!), I collaborated with Schools Plus to deliver workshops for youth aged 11 to 17. Between February 2015 and May 2016, I had the privilege of working with a remarkable group of girls. Twice a week, we gathered for hour-long sessions where they learned to express themselves through songwriting and music. The most impactful lyrics came from one exercise, called ‘free writing’, where they would let their hand and mind flow without judgement or pauses, where they could be truly vulnerable and anonymous to the world, free to express their souls. During junior school and high school, the ability to have a space to do this makes a huge difference in our lives.

I saw how some of them came into the sessions feeling shy, burdened by the weight of the world, only to leave with a brightness in their eyes, a voice ready to be heard, and the confidence to face each day. Others arrived with hardened exteriors, seemingly impenetrable, but as the workshops progressed, I witnessed their hearts opening, revealing vulnerability and allowing experiences to shape them.

Despite my 15-year experience as a singer-songwriter, it wasn’t until these workshops that I truly understood the transformative power of songwriting. I had always felt its impact on listeners and audiences, but it wasn’t until then that I realized what songwriting had given me in my own youth. These workshops helped the students develop resilience, self-assurance, and self-awareness. Their mental health improved, as did their coping and decision-making skills, along with their relationships in and beyond school. They discovered that their words and voices mattered. They learned the strength and power of vulnerability, using songwriting as a way to release their emotions. They developed humility and empathy, fostering understanding for others going through similar experiences. Most importantly, they realized they were never alone in their struggles.

The girls in the workshop formed an unbreakable bond and left an indelible mark on me. They said they wanted to join me on tour, dreaming about renting a tour van and recording an album some day. We organized a performance at the school, where we recorded a live album. They did their own artwork for the album cover. Most of them did not play an instrument, so they learned to play for the show. Many of them did not sing, but they sang for the show. The confidence they received from learning something they never thought they could do, was extraordinary. Their peers and their teachers were in awe of what they had accomplished. They donated the proceeds from their album sales to the Red Cross–they wanted to give back.

Link to Take a Step Back, written and performed by this group of students.

After this show, the girls from this particular group embarked on their high school journey. The remarkable impact of Songwriting on this group prompted AHA! and Schools Plus to continue their collaboration with me, extending my work through Music in the Schools until 2018. We offered music and songwriting for both individuals and groups, of all ages and genders, in Antigonish, Guysborough and Richmond Counties.

I will forever remain grateful to AHA! and Schools Plus for this transformative experience and the opportunities it brought. Witnessing the profound effects of art on health inspired me in a life-altering decision, leading me to transition my career from music into nursing and public health. Thank you to AHA! and Schools Plus. May you always know the impact and difference you make.