After starting back up last fall for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic brought most things to a halt, Franklin County JAM held open registration for the new semester on Jan. 18 at the Leonard A. Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration at 4 p.m.
The program was recently given a boost by a local couple, Bruce and Luci Wright, in the form of a $2,000 donation. The couple has been making regular donations to the program for the past couple of years.
Jim Mullens, program director, said, “They seem very interested in children learning music and wanted to do something for the community.”
Bruce and Luci’s love of bluegrass and old-time music impacted their decision to donate. “We know it’s a great program. They have been doing a good job for a long time. It’s a good cause. We like to support the kids and give them an opportunity to take some lessons. We didn’t have that opportunity growing up, so I’m glad they’re able to,” Bruce said.
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Luci added that because they are both retired educators, they realize the importance of engaging children in meaningful activities. “These days kids need to be involved in something positive,” she said. “There are too many temptations to make the wrong choice. Music is a great positive activity even if it is never a vocation for them. It can always be an important hobby.”
The donation, Mullens said, will help the program stay afloat. “This year they doubled their donation to $2,000,” he said. “A lot of times when we don’t have many students like now, we come up short every month when we pay the instructors.”
The program is funded in part by the Smith Mountain Arts Council. “Without the Smith Mountains Arts Council, we could not do the program. They have supported us for eight years,” he said.
Those who are interested in participating in the program are able to stop by the Gereau Center next Tuesday. Lessons occur at the center in Rocky Mount every Tuesday from 4-5:30 p.m. Students pay $10 per lesson. Students who receive a free or reduced lunch pay $5 per lesson. For students who do not own an instrument, the program can loan one to them. Mullens said that if interested students aren’t able to be present on Jan. 18, they can stop by the center the following Tuesday as well.
So far, 15 students are registered for the upcoming session. Eight of those students are new to the program. They include one banjo player, one fiddle player and six guitar players.
“They are very excited to be there,” he said. “We’ve got students anywhere from 4th grade through 10th grade now.”
Despite the fact that the program has resumed operations, it has yet to reach its pre-pandemic size. Prior to the pandemic, the program had roughly 40 students. While Mullens doesn’t anticipate the program will return to its pre-pandemic numbers quickly, he said he would like to at least have 25 students.
Mullens added that all of the students wear masks during the practices. They only occasionally remove them when they are singing.
Three of the current instructors have been with the program for over two years. A new banjo instructor who is a freshman at Ferrum College has recently joined the program. “He’s been playing music since he was probably 5-years-old,” Mullens said.