Pick With Austin: Helping Teens Struggling with Depression Cope Through Music | Reverb Gives

Pick with Austin

Reverb Gives provides teachers, instructors, and leaders of music programs with the instruments that they need, directly from the Reverb marketplace. Since its launch, Reverb Gives has had the opportunity to help support a variety of remarkable organizations committed to making the world a more musical place.

Jeff Curley

With so many unique missions, all revolving around music and music education, we wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight some of these organizations, detailing their cause and highlighting the great work that they’re doing with music.

Today, we’re speaking with Jeff Curley, the founder of Pick With Austin. After losing his son, Alan, to suicide, Curley started the organization with a volunteer staff and Board of Director's Advisory full of musicians, all with the goal of helping kids struggling with depression to connect with music. Continue reading to learn more about Pick With Austin from Jeff, including how you can get involved.

What is Pick With Austin's mission?

The goal of creating Pick With Austin has always been two-fold. The primary goal is to use music (guitars, in particular) to help provide a coping tool to young people who are experiencing feelings of depression, whether it be because of life circumstances, due to bullying, or as a result of mental health-related issues.

Secondly, Alan had a habit in life of giving his own things away to help out other kids less fortunate than him. He'd give away his jacket to someone at school on a cold day if their family couldn't afford to buy them one, or he'd give away a guitar or a skateboard, or whatever, to someone who did not have the fortune of having one due, generally, to economic reasons.

To this end, Pick With Austin provides roughly 150 free guitars every year to young people in the community. We also work to mentor not just young people, but the leadership figures overseeing them, to learn and teach music. We speak at local events, especially health fairs, we attend music showcases and often speak about what we do to the audiences, and we run a program called "Pick Across America" where we send our free custom guitar picks out to musicians to spread awareness.

What kinds of programs does Pick with Austin run? How are instruments distributed, what kinds of basics classics/lessons are offered?

Pick With Austin has several outreach programs—some still developing—with the primary one being the giving of musical instruments to youth who are potentially at-risk of depression. These are children and teens who are in hospitals, going through therapy, in group or foster homes, within the juvenile justice system, as well as children of military families where one or more parents are deployed.

In addition to giving instruments, Pick With Austin sponsors basic lessons—primarily for guitar, but we also have piano, violin, and other instrument instruction available at times. Our goal is to be an introduction to the instruments and to music, beginning with how to maintain an instrument properly and basic music theory. Those kids who display an interest and aptitude can fill out a services-request form that petitions us to donate an instrument to them that they can keep.

We are in the process of expanding in the area of lessons, working more and more with mentoring individuals who can continue providing instructions—generally, those within the systems where we've visited, like probation officers, youth group leaders, and so forth.

Can you talk a bit about the musicians and people on the Pick With Austin staff? What are their backgrounds, and how did they get involved?

I started playing guitar in 1968, studying classical guitar and learning music theory before expanding on to more mainstream rock and folk styles of music. Throughout high school and beyond, I played in several small rock bands and have learned how to play other instruments proficiently, too, like the harmonica, mandolin, piano, synthesizer, drums, and Native American flute.

Professionally, I'm a talent agent (formerly with an agency in North Hollywood, and now in Austin, Texas) who manages actors, commercial print models, voice over artists, animal talent, and musicians. I've produced several albums with original material that has been donated to the non-profit by various musicians and bands around the world. I've also contracted with a local hospital in the past as a family advocate, helping families with children who are suffering from mental health issues navigate the school and health care systems.

Pick With Austin regularly invites local musicians—Austin is hailed as the "Live Music Capital of the World"—to volunteer, speak about the music industry with youth in our outreach programs, and/or to help provide music instruction. Our primary volunteer staff and our Board of Director's Advisory is made up of a cross-functional team that includes a mental health therapist and several musicians.

We partner with a large MHMR and are connected with the community very closely so that resources are always available to us when we are doing outreach and when looking to develop additional ideas and seek resources beyond our scope. For instance, a local hospital has offered to donate to us an entire suite to create a music center, which is something that we're starting to discuss plans for.

How about the participants? How are they connected with Pick With Austin? Do many have prior music experience or none at all?

Our participants vary in their musical backgrounds and experience. Most are young (eight to 18 years old), and playing an instrument is entirely new to them. Others have experience but are isolated from their ability to practice traditionally due to hospitalization, being in a group home, or otherwise being away from home while within the juvenile justice system.

On a whole, we feel like we are introducing music and musical instruments to youth who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to get involved. Indeed, our ability to actually give instruments to those who show a dedication to learning—an instrument that they can keep—inspires a whole new group of individuals that otherwise may have never been this musically involved.

How is Reverb Gives helping to contribute to Pick With Austin's mission?

Because Pick With Austin is 100 percent volunteer-based and isn't working off any major funding programs, we are always in need of support—primarily, with musical instruments. We have several donation drop-off locations in the Central Texas area where people can bring instruments that we then use after reconditioning or repair. Most of the local music stores also support our mission and occasionally donate instruments they cannot use or sell.

Reverb Gives is an incredible resource for supporting non-profit programs like ours that are working to build stronger, happier, and more musical communities. The help we've received has allowed us to pick up more gear that we can then use to help today's struggling teens become tomorrow's music stars.

How can people get involved in supporting Pick With Austin?

Locally, we are always seeking musician volunteers to help teach and/or mentor young people in music. The organization is only seven or eight years old, but our goal is to eventually be national in what we do. In the meantime, we try to encourage people to adopt similar programs within their own communities.

When someone from a distance contacts Pick With Austin and states, "I have a guitar I'd like to donate," we often tell them that the shipping cost may outweigh the value of the guitar. "Find someone in your own community who would benefit from the guitar, and help them learn and embrace music so that you pay it forward." We can even send them one of our logo labels to affix to the instrument before they repurpose it to a youth in hopes of developing another music star some day.

Anyone who wants to learn more about what we do may follow us on social media (Facebook and Twitter), as well as through our website.

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