For Johnnesha Wardlow, being in the school band means more than being able to toot her own horn.
“It has taught me to get along with other people. It has made me a more disciplined person,” said the 17-year-old clarinet player, who attends Dorsey High School in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles.
Shuttled among foster homes and group homes since she was 9, Johnnesha spent years feeling isolated and on the brink of trouble.
She often got into physical and verbal clashes with others. She ended up in juvenile hall after one too many fistfights.
“Life was hard,” she said. “I had no one to talk to.”
That all changed 18 months ago, when she joined the school music program. Her grades went up.
For the first time, Johnnesha set her mind on attending college. She is planning a career as a music teacher.
“Being in a band has been like a family to me,” she said. “It’s really shaped my future.”
Dorsey High and many other schools, reeling from budget cuts in recent years, have struggled with instrument shortages.
But the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation has stepped in to help, providing horns, drums and string instruments to students like Johnnesha.
This year, the Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit foundation, which takes applications for aid and then purchases and distributes instruments, received $15,000 from the 2004 Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The campaign raises money for charities that serve children and youths from low-income families in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
The foundation, which assists about 70 schools nationwide every year, was founded in 1996 by composer Michael Kamen, who wrote the score for the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” The organization’s goal is to assist aspiring young musicians who may be in schools that cannot afford instruments.
“There are lots of kids who are on waiting lists for school bands because they don’t have the instruments,” said Felice Mancini, the foundation’s executive director. “Often there will be five kids sharing one trumpet.”
The group recently came to the rescue of a music teacher in Florida who found all of her school’s band instruments under water in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.
“They had replacement instruments in time for the start of school,” Mancini said.
HOW TO GIVE
The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Holiday Campaign to help disadvantaged children and youths should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made at latimes.com/holidaycampaign.
All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $50 or more may be published in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise; acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed.
For more information, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.