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Leading by sharing
May 8, 2014

By Peggy Nelson | For years, I’d passed the sign-up sheet for Families Moving Forward hosting weeks without putting my name down.That changed in 2007 when I finally signed up to volunteer -- without any idea what to expect.

I took some of my musical instruments with me that first evening. When I arrived, there were 5 or 6 boys, ages 8 to 13. “Oh no,” was all I remember thinking. “This is not my typical audience.”

However, I asked them if they knew any songs. To my surprise, one boy raised his hand and said, “Yes! This Land Is Your Land.” Fortunately, I know this song and we sang it over and over throughout our week together. By the last day, one of the boys asked if he could play the song by himself, and he did! He was so confident! His mother was so impressed, as were the other volunteers and children. After that, I spent as many evenings with the families that I could.

My life was changed.

Through my leadership of sharing music and having fun, the families received inspiration to move forward along with the good feelings of accomplishment and of being valued partners in our community.

In turn, I received the love and acceptance that we all treasure; but even more, I have been part of the success of families who are moving forward.Throughout the past 7 years, I have continued making music with children and families during my congregation’s hosting week along with making other special memories.

What is reinforced each time I volunteer with Families Moving Forward is that the fear that holds so many of us back as adults does not exist with children. For a child, learning a new skill -- like how to sing a new song, how to play a musical instrument or meeting a new friend -- is not an experience to back away from but something to cherish.

I think of Avis, about 11, who was immediately drawn to the piano and started to teach himself “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” He had no fear of making mistakes and was so eager to learn! On the second evening, I taught him to play the melody while I played an accompaniment. He did so well, I asked if he wanted to put on a small concert for his family, the volunteers and other guests that week. He eagerly agreed and played with such pride that evening.

Another touching moment was the final “good-night” at the end of a hosting week. “Tanya,” 7, and her mom and I had played music together all week. That night before bed Tanya looked up into my eyes and a tear started rolling down her face. All I could think was that no more words could express our feelings. I gave her a goodnight hug, a “finger kiss” on her cheek and a goodnight song.

I am very sure that this week made a significant difference in her life and in her future and that every one of us can make this kind of difference if we share ourselves with Families Moving Forward. 

Peggy Nelson
Peggy is a volunteer host coordinator at Colonial Church of Edina for the Families Moving Forward program. She has taught music for years and is a professor of music education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She plays the piano, the autoharp, the accordion, the African drum, the Djembe and lots of small and large instruments, all of which she shares with children of all ages during Colonial's hosting weeks. "Sharing music and my instruments with the children brings me so much joy especially remembering memories of when my own children were young," she said. (They're now a Navy SEAL, a Marine Presidential Guard and an aspiring Navy pilot.) This post is excerpted from her remarks at The Journey Home on May 6.