Caroline Buckner has always been passionate about music. The 21-year-old Georgia resident started piano lessons when she was four years old, started learning percussion — her instrument of choice — when she was in fifth grade, and then took up the guitar when she was a junior in high school. Her passion for music, combined with her desire to make a difference in people’s lives, has led her to pursue a career in music therapy, which she’s currently studying at Georgia College. Her future career is already commendable enough, but Caroline hasn’t stopped there in her path to help others — she also, as just a teenager, started her very own nonprofit, Concert for a Cause.
Concert for a Cause is a 501(3)(c) nonprofit that holds events and fundraisers, including an annual community charity concert, to raise money for music therapy services at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as well as other metro Atlanta music therapy practices. What started as a Girl Scout project when Caroline was a teenager morphed into an organization that has to date raised thousands of dollars. On top of attending school and working a job, Caroline spends about ten to 15 hours a week leading the organization as its founder, president and executive director.
“I wanted to be able to make a difference in people’s lives,” Caroline said of her passion for music therapy. “Using my love of music and, thankfully, the music abilities that I have to to help other people and make their lives better and encourage them is just kinda who I am as a person so it seemed like a fitting profession to join.”
For her dedication to helping others through her passion for music, Caroline is today’s Daily Point of Light Award recipient. Points of Light spoke with her to learn more about Concert for a Cause.
Describe how you volunteer with Concert for a Cause.
Concert for A Cause was my Girl Scout Gold Award in my sophomore or junior year of high school. I had to do a Take Action project for Girl Scouts and was doing career exploration at the time, and so what I was doing was trying to figure out a way where I could do community service and do music because I was a music nerd at the same time. The woman who came to do our leadership seminar was a music therapist at Fulton County Schools. Her name was Amber Weldon-Stephens and she introduced me to the whole idea. So I met with the music therapist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and I asked if there was anything I could do to support their program. We did a charity concert with them at Cambridge High School our first year and raised a couple thousand dollars and donated it in the form of supplies to them. We bought bluetooth wall-mounted speakers that had CD players in them and we put them in every single room of their Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit. Then we made music baskets to put into each of their rooms for patients who are admitted, because they’re usually there for a longer stay. It had headphones, iTunes gift cards and stuff like that.
I did my presentation on it and got my Gold Award and that was kind of the end of it. We left extra supplies there so they could continue giving them out afterwards as the longevity aspect of the project, but we hadn’t really considered taking it any further. Then the woman I was speaking to sent me an email a couple months later and asked me if I would do it again because they wanted more supplies and the patients really loved it. It was my senior year of high school and I figured since I was still in town, it wasn’t a big deal, and I did it again and that’s how it started. I kept up with it as I went to college because I’m about two and a half hours away from Roswell right now. So my third year was doing it on my own still with the help of community partners and stuff like that, and I decided that if we actually wanted to make this sustainable and get as much impact out of it as we could, then we should become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. I worked with a team of lawyers in Roswell in order to write our bylaws and come up with the executive board and all that fun stuff. We did the paperwork and became a 501(c)(3) and that was two years ago now.
I had an executive board built up of people in Roswell and mostly around Atlanta who had done the project before and who I felt would really help us grow. I’m the president and executive director of that board. A lot of what I do is oversight and long term, five-year plans. I’ll help our director of performer relations schedule acts and interview people who want to play at our shows and things like that. I’ll also help the vice president with making sure we have enough donors and things like that for our silent auction and main events. We work on a five-year plan so, for example, we’re working on expanding to offer grants to music therapy private practices in addition to just supporting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Up until this point we’ve only worked with their music therapy department, but we’re at the point where we’re in a good spot financially right now, so we can expand that. We have an Amazon wishlist through Amazon Smile where people from anywhere with internet access can purchase supplies that music therapists in the area are requesting through this list, and it will be sent to us and we can distribute them to the private practices. So in addition to doing Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we can offer direct supplies and we’re working on expanding to be able to offer two grants that music therapists in the area can apply for.
What kind of acts do you have at the concert?
We try to show a very wide variety of music. Last year’s concert, we had everything from electronic tuba to a percussionist playing flower pots while doing a spoken word poem. It’s a very wide range. We stick to some traditional things, we’ll have a singer-songwriter set with guitar and vocals or piano and vocals. We also try to show some of the weird stuff as well so people can see how wide reaching music is, because music therapy is all about helping others and adapting it so music can help them heal in whichever way they need to. So we try to show the wide range of that and we’ll have any ages. I think the youngest we’ve had is maybe 10, all the way up to close to 60 or probably 65, just to show that music is for everyone and anyone can partake in it. We also incorporate a lot of music therapy ideas in them, in the way that we want our audience to experience some of the interventions that we would do actually with clients so they kind of know what it is they’re supporting. The concert is usually about two and a half hours, so it could be anywhere from probably six to 10 people performing. It’s a little flexible based on the types of acts we have perform.
What does music therapy and having access to items like you have in the music baskets do for patients?
The first year, as far as the gift baskets and things like that, were used as a way to extend access to music beyond when a music therapist could get there, because just about everybody has a smart phone so it included the ability for the client to have preferred music. Because originally before we started, the CIRU [Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit] only had two or three portable CD players and there were, I want to say, 37 beds on that floor, but I’m not 100 percent sure. So even if more clients wanted access to it, they physically didn’t have the means for it. So that would be the extension of music therapy outside of listening to preferred music. But also it allows a music therapist to interact with more of the clients if they have the resources available. Even simply listening to music that the client prefers stimulates the neurological pathways which encourages the healing that they’re trying to do, especially on the CIRU floor. Because a lot of them, it’s severe trauma, so anything at all helps. There’s a lot of research backing up listening to music versus getting a specialized music therapist, so they don’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford egg shakers to help their clients and things like that. Music therapy in a pediatric setting can do just about anything. We work with a lot of different domains and they co-treat with the interdisciplinary teams so speech, OT, PT, and things like that. This way they kind of benefit and support each other. And without a strong music therapy department, the client is not getting the full amount of holistic treatment and the allied arts treatment that they need in order to best recuperate.
Do you have any plans for the future, both concerning the organization itself and your personal involvement with the organization?
We’ll have our singer-songwriter festival, that will be in Milledgeville and that will be in October. We don’t have a date nailed down for that. We have our community charity concert every year in June. The one this year was postponed … but June 2020 will be our next actual Concert for a Cause. Honestly I would just encourage people mostly to follow us on social media to figure out what we’re up to, because a lot of times we’ll do spirit nights and partner with local restaurants and businesses and things like that. We’ll have one to two of those events each month.
I hope to continue for a long time. I enjoy it a lot and it’s wonderful to see the impact that we have in the community and as far as helping the advancement of music therapy. It’s not really a new field but it’s an up-and-coming field that more people are beginning to learn about. I think it’s extremely important that the music therapy world feels they have the community support in order to further impact what they’re doing with their clients. I’ll always be the founder but I hope to be the director for a long time, with the help and great support of my executive board. They’re awesome.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Probably realizing how many people don’t know about music therapy and being able to educate them about that. A lot of times we’ll have people come up and ask what it is, and the light bulbs on their face that they get are really rewarding. Or when you have someone come up to you about music therapy, how they’ve had an interaction with it and they associate you with it. One of my friends from high school, his mom contacted me on Facebook the other day because his uncle was about to pass away. He was at the end of life and they had a music therapist come in and drop off an iPad and do some sessions with his uncle. When his mom walked in and saw the iPad, she thought it was just one of the family members thinking it was a good idea to play music, but it was actually the music therapist at the hospital. Not only did she think it comforted the uncle, she thought it comforted her and the entire rest of her family. She sent me this really long Facebook message about how important it was and how much it meant to them to have that experience, and how she never would have known about it if she hadn’t met me and seen my project and things like that. So just seeing and hearing the impact that music therapy has and the fact that we’re supporting that, and having these people come share their stories with us, is honestly one of the most encouraging things ever, both for Concert for a Cause and going into the profession.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Because we wouldn’t be able to survive without each other. A lot of people don’t have the same gifts and don’t have the same luck in life that a lot of us do. To be able to grow up and be in a situation to help other people who might not have had it as well as you have, and being able to help them make a difference in their life, is extremely important in the community. You can very much see when a community doesn’t have the support of each other, and that’s not really a place anybody wants to live. I think it’s extremely important in this day and age where a lot of people are so willing to attack other people, and the idea that their opinions are different or their lifestyles are different. The fact that we’re so willing to comment on that versus commenting on helping someone across the street, or helping to pay off student loans, and things like that — if we had more of that, we would be more successful as a society.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
To get involved doing what you love. Everyone is passionate about something. For me it’s music, but some people are very passionate about animals and going to the animal shelter, or feeding the hungry or planting trees, that kind of thing. Everyone has something that they love to do, and figure out how [to take] what you love to do [and] you can use that to support someone else. No matter what it is, you can always use what you love to inspire or to encourage or to support someone else that might not have found that love yet or might have slipped from that. It’s extremely important to give back to the community in general just because you can make a difference, and the more people that choose to make a difference, and to take this path of community service and volunteerism, the better off your communities will be. It helps you grow as a person, too.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Caroline? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.