“We are breaking the chain. I don’t want to see these kids standing in food lines when they are their parents age,” says Beverly Pierret about the music program at Café of Life in Bonita Springs. A longtime volunteer at the café Pierret, founded the music program two years ago and says it’s changing the lives of the under privileged children who are involved in it.
Music and Food for the Soul
“Music is good for the heart and soul and well–for everything,” says Pierret. She began the program with one piano teacher and three students. Today there six instructors, 18 students, guitar has been added to the offerings, and there is a waiting list. There are also requests to add more instruments along with vocals and dance.
The Café of Life was founded 20 years ago by a couple who wanted to offer homeless in the area, many of whom were veterans, a cup of coffee and support. The organization has bounced between several locations while growing and changing with the community.
In 2012 the Bonita Springs Women’s Club donated their building on Childers Street to the Café, giving the organization space for offices, storage, and events, including the music classes. Lessons are held three days a week as Public Relations and Transportation Director Nina Hart explains, “We buy keyboards, or they are donated, and give them to the children so they can practice at home.” The students sign a waiver that allows them to keep the instruments as long as they continue to take lessons.
Hart says the program also benefits parents. “It holds them accountable. If they want a better future for their child, they must bring them here and participate too. Parents want more for their kids, but they don’t always know how to go about it. They see the value in this, and we see their joy and pride when watching their kids preform at our recitals.”
Iris is leading the pack when it comes to the program’s success stories. Pierret remembers, “Her mother asked us if we could help. She was sitting on the couch crying one afternoon because she had no talent. They were planning a talent show at school.”
Iris had all kinds of talent bubbling underneath the surface, just waiting for someone to coax it out. At nine years old she began piano lessons and one year later was given a coveted scholarship to Learning from Elementary to Advance Piano or LEAP, a program by the Music Foundation of Greater Naples designed to help students from low-income families with private piano lessons.
18,000 Meals Served
The Café of Life is privately funded and multi-faceted. Every weekday hot meals are prepared by different community groups and served under a gazebo at Leitner Park. The café actually built Leitner with help from the City of Bonita Springs. It also includes a small kitchen, playground, and soccer field. There is a food pantry and tables of donated clothing and goods; special attention is given to mothers and children on Tuesday. Last year, with the help of some 200 volunteers, 18,000 meals were served.
For those who can’t make it to the park, volunteers go into local migrant communities, delivering bags of grocery basics. There is also a transportation arm that helps get the underprivileged, the elderly, and veterans to the park for meals, to physicians’ offices, and other important appointments.
These services are the tangible part of what the organization offers. What can’t be quantified, is the personal touch found here; the feeling of comfort and safety, the friendships that have been formed, and the kindness extended to those experiencing a wide range of need.
And music plays a vital role. “Music is giving these students in our neighborhood confidence and it’s helping them in school too,” says Pierret. Hart adds, “I’ve seen a light develop in the eyes of these children. They have a different perspective now. They have the opportunity to dream bigger than the neighborhoods they are from.”
Café of Life is a 501(c)(3) organization and therefore cash donations are tax deductible. Gifts may be made online or mailed to the address listed. If you are interested in volunteering, please call, email or visit us online.