The Benton Harbor, Michigan-based nonprofit organization, I’m Saving Myself (ISM), has announced the opening of a new ISM Music & Entertainment Industry Academy. The facility is being developed to build self-esteem in the local youth. It will house a recording studio, a dance studio, a green-screen music video room and musical instruction rooms. It is located within The Salvation Army B Building at 233 Michigan Street in downtown Benton Harbor Classes at the academy will include vocal, music, dance, and drama lessons, training in technical aspects of the music industry, and focused workshops on a variety of topics. Students will learn to write their own music and lyrics, and how to make their own CDs in the recording studio housed at the Academy. Students will also perform in a culmination event at the end of the school year. The positive abstinence from all risky behavior message is laced throughout all of the classes and workshops.
The Academy will be up and running beginning July 6th with the re-launching of the popular “Core Kids” Program which includes kids with a special enthusiasm and need for the work done there. ISM mentors these core kids in their chosen venue within the music industry (vocals, lyric-writing, musical instruments, dance, concert stage production, recording or music/video production) and gives them “hands-on” experience in order to help them find their talents and purpose, exposes them to new experiences in order to show them new possibilities for their lives and teaches them high behavior standards which they, in turn, use as peer mentors to help assimilate kids in the more densely populated school and academy programsThe academy has the purpose of creating an environment where kids can express themselves in a healthy manner and learn healthy behaviors all while honing their God-given musical talent.
What’s not changing is the leadership coming from the executive director position. Bonita Mitchell remains the powerhouse behind the ISM organization and brand. Mitchell, who founded the organization in 2001 to encourage kids in Berrien County, Michigan to abstain from risky behaviors like drug use, premarital sex, suicide, bullying and other violent acts, remarks “The biggest change is that it’s no longer me trying to do everything on my own.” She explained, “Not only was I getting worn out, I also realized that the organization needed to grow and, although I had the vision, I was missing many of the skills needed to take the organization to the next level.” To find those skills, Mitchell simply needed to go home. She reached out to some of her classmates from her days at near-by Eau Claire High School and found them searching and eager for a way to give back to the Southwest Michigan area. “Who could say no to such a wonderful cause that has made such a huge difference in our community?”, asked Becky Bennett, President & CEO–Entrepreneur Success, Inc. & Royalties, Inc., who will serve as the organization’s chief financial officer. Bennett, who earned a B.A. with an emphasis on Accounting from Mercer University, Macon, GA, was further motivated by the fact that the organization was launched at her beloved Eau Claire High School after a popular star athlete took his own life. “While I was originally focused on giving back to my own small community, I realized this organization does that and then some. Until Bonita educated me about the alarming rate at which our young people were attempting to take their own lives, I had no idea what a threat teen suicide was to our community and our future.”
Also on board is psychology student and current Eau Claire Public School employee, Robin Krugh. Krugh has volunteered for the ISM organization for over ten years as the head of show and concert production. “I’ve seen first-hand what a program like this can do to save lives and set young people on a positive course.” Said Krugh. Her main responsibility will be the administration of the ISM after-school and in-school programs, as well as working with local social workers and psychologists to understand and administer appropriate measures to the ISM programs.
Former Whirlpool Corporation marketer and graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, Ronda Collier, was next to sign up. Collier will lead the marketing and public relations efforts for the organization. “The outcomes of this organization’s work are amazing. Kids with histories of abuse, violence and suicide attempts credit the ISM organization for the fact that they are not only contributing members of society today, but also serve as role models and mentors to other kids with similar upbringings. Shining a light on ISM’s work is going to be tremendously fun and rewarding” commented Collier.
Cindy Ehrenberg came on board in 2015 as a volunteer, but, in the future will help lead the team as Assistant Executive Director. Cindy is a well-known figure in the Berrien County nonprofit sector. She has a degree in social work and has served as a probation officer, Director of the Victim Assistance Program, Mediator for the friend of the court, Court referral coordinator with the Volunteer Center of SWMI, and, most recently as Director of Community & Volunteer Relations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor.
Rounding out the organization as the program coordinator for the facility is Kara Reinhardt. Kara is a recent graduate of Anderson University in Indiana and brings a wealth of knowledge with her degree in family sciences.
While the new positions begin as volunteer and part-time positions for now, a top priority of the organization will be to find capacity-building funding to allow some of the positions to be full-time paid staff members.
While the new positions remain volunteer and part-time positions for now, a top priority of the organization will be to find capacity-building funding to allow some of the positions to be full-time paid staff members.