Art Salzfass, a resident of the Rossmoor Retirement Community in Walnut Creek, California, has a unique mission. Art, along with other members of the Rossmoor Ukulele Club, is determined to provide a uke to every child in the Walnut Creek School District.
A few months ago Art wrote to the Superintendent of the Walnut Creek School District: “I am one of the active senior citizens who live in Rossmoor. I am part of a 120+ member ukulele club. We are interested in seeing if we can help our local school children by providing them with ukuleles and perhaps some other support. Does that interest you?”
The response from the Walnut Creek School District was instantaneous—and enthusiastic, according to an article by Jill Tucker published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Christmas Day, 2022.
“District Superintendent Marie Morgan said, ‘I emailed back literally within minutes. I thought this is such a cool experience. That’s what makes magic happen in schools.’”
Since then, says Art Salzfass, the Rossmoor Ukulele Club has embarked on a partnership with the (WCSD) and have triggered the development of a new two-year ukulele program in the district for 4th and 5th grade students. The WCSD has three credentialed music teachers to work with elementary students and now they have 90 more ukuleles.
“However, our donation falls a bit short of our shared vision of putting a ukulele in the hand of every child in the district to use both at school and to practice at home. So we have set up a GoFundMe account: www.gofundme.com/f/Provide-ukuleles-to-children. The schools now want their intermediate kids to learn music so we are working hard to raise more money. And we have been asked to put on a concert there and show everyone what the mighty uke can do.”
According to the Chronicle, “This isn’t the first time the Rossmoor ukulele club has donated instruments—they sent 100 ukes to Paradise after the devastating wildfire destroyed the community and the local school.” Additionally, says Art Salzfass, “They are hoping to raise enough money to provide the instruments to students in the Mt. Diablo school district and beyond.”
A note published on the groups GoFundMe page states, “You probably know that school music programs are being cut all over the country. The cuts are mostly due to budgeting and funding limitations, but also because many educators don’t understand the true benefits of music education and are unwilling to earmark funds for music education.
“We, the Ukulele Club of Rossmoor, have embarked on a partnership with the Walnut Creek School District (WCSD) to support music education. While a neighboring school district eliminated its music program, the WCSD expanded its program this year by hiring three credential music teachers to work with elementary students.”
Even with the WCSD buying the ukuleles at cost, the group’s funding falls short of being able to meet its ultimate goal of a uke for every child. “A donation of $50 fully funds the purchase of a ukulele, a tuner, and carrying case for a student. Of course, whatever you are willing to donate is gratefully accepted.”
Anne Fennell, an executive board member for the California Music Educators Association told the Chronicle, “Following the pandemic, many children still suffer the emotional and academic costs from months of distant learning and social isolation. Many kids missed out on music education for months or years while class was remote.
“A large body of research shows that children who study music have higher grades and better attendance. Music education can also help cut depression, boost problem-solving, and nurture teamwork skills.
“We find students want to go to school because they want to play music. When a child starts to make music it becomes a part of their identity. No one can ever take that away. The donation of ukuleles by the Rossmoor residents offers the students far more than an instrument to play.”
Art Salzfass is sanguine about the prospects of this program. “We really want to make a difference by helping our neighboring kids learn and appreciate music. I even have plans for setting up a program at night to teach the parents. We have people here willing to contribute their time and talent.
“All we need is the money.”