Part II: Building a Stronger Reputation, One Story at a Time

(Part Two of Two….see Part One here)

The YMCA in Lawrence, Mass., sits in the very heart of this once great mill town, located about 30 miles north of Boston and just shy of the New Hampshire border.  The brick building straddles the Campagnone Common, is just around the corner from City Hall, a stone’s throw from the police station, the downtown shopping center and numerous churches and schools.  It’s where I spent countless grammar school afternoons — swimming in the pool there and playing ping pong and basketball with my pals from Holy Rosary Grammar School.

When I visited the Y a week ago, many fond memories rushed in.  But it was clear this wasn’t your grandfather’s YMCA — though it is still the one that taught me about friendship, about having respect for others, about tolerance, team work and about having fun. They are still teaching these things, or course, and much more thanks in large part to The Music Clubhouse at the Lawrence YMCA –which took up residency in 2005.

Amidst charges of city government corruption, a soaring crime rate, the highest unemployment rate in the state and municipal leadership which has apparently forgotten who they are supposed to serve,  the Lawrence YMCA and Music Clubhouse are two of the city’s diamonds in the rough.

Every city has its gems. But they are often overshadowed by the shenanigans of so-called adults who are busy squabbling, cutting corners and promoting self-interests.  Lawrence’s reputation, unfortunately, is tightly linked to the reputation of its city’s officials (as a corporation’s reputation is linked to that of its CEO) — and these days, that isn’t a good thing.

Imagine if the teens at the Music Clubhouse were provided the opportunity to talk about Lawrence in place of the mayor, chief of staff, police chief and city councilors.  What stories would they tell? Imagine if the mayor, the city’s CEO, anointed these teens –who have a passion for the arts and for learning — as word-of-mouth ambassadors; spokespeople for what’s right with the city.  How might the city’s reputation improve over time?

Since its founding, the Lawrence Music Clubhouse — sponsored by the Music and Youth Initiative and the Merrimack Valley YMCA — has opened its doors to about 3200 kids from ages 10 – 18.  While there, they are taught to play the broadest range of musical instruments, from piano to congas.  If they are interested in learning about music production, there’s a state-of-the-art recording studio supervised by a professional. If they want to start or be part of a band, they can do that too.

Some kids are champing at the bit every day for the last school bell to ring so they can hustle over to they Y. And many companies are just as much in a hurry to support these kids by donating equipment and time.  Organizations like Avid, Berklee College of Music, D’Addario & Co., and Harmonix, among others, are helping the dreams of thousands of hopeful musicians come true.  Right in Lawrence.

Wilfredo, a student at Lawrence High School, plays lead guitar in the style of his hero – Eddie Van Halen. He rips it.  You have to hear it to believe it.

Two others teens, also students at the high school, play original music on violin.  With their flat bill hats and ultra cool look, well, let’s just say they are not your stereotypical violin players.

Communities, like corporations, have a range of key stakeholders to consider in their actions and in their communications.  In Lawrence’s case, paying lip service to the present contributions of the city’s future leaders is a grave mistake. Remember, the best leaders were first great listeners.

Lawrence may not be a corporation in the traditional sense, but enough of its citizens — including Music Clubhouse members — recognize that their city’s reputation hinges on all of its assets.  Perhaps it’s not too late for the city fathers to recognize this too.

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