By PHILIP A. VANNO
For Chuck Fox, going from giving away bikes to giving away instruments wasn’t exactly a natural progression.
But after a trip to the Caribbean, the founder of the Hamilton-based non-profit group Community Bikes found himself with a second project: Helping a struggling nation develop a music program for at-risk youths.
“It’s a complete departure (from bikes) … but the music project is consistent with our broader mission to foster personal and community development,” Fox said.
Community Bikes’ foray into the music world began last year when the organization, which normally collects and refurbishes donated bicycles and places them with families that cannot afford them, delivered 75 bikes to the two-island Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Fox said that the success of that project prompted a request from government officials there for the local group to help develop a music program. The goal is to put together a community band, expand the country’s international brass band, and preserve the country’s indigenous string band music.
Community Bikes has already collected 20 various instruments toward that goal, and is in the process of enlisting schools throughout Madison County to set up instrument drives. Fox said he hopes to set up a musical and cultural exchange program between local students and the kids in St. Kitts and Nevis, a country plagued by gang violence and drug-related issues, with one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world.
“This could provide an opportunity for students to have a real impact on the lives of their peers in a neighboring country,” Fox said. “They can engage with the international community through music, and in doing so, broaden their world view through an exciting exchange of music, culture, heritage and history.”
Project member Aaron Mentos can relate to that.
The Colgate sophomore, who recently visited his father’s homeland of St. Kitts for the first time to play for its national soccer team, said he sees himself in the faces of its youth.
“So many kids in the U.S. don’t seize opportunities and just let them pass by like they are nothing,” said the 21-year-old Massachusetts resident, who is also a citizen of St. Kitts. “But these kids don’t have the resources we do. Being able to help afford them this opportunity means everything because I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if it wasn’t for soccer and music.”