Teaching Music and Love, No Strings Attached

March 14, 2018

Music stirs the senses, triggers emotion, and brings peopletogether on an intimate level. Perhaps no place in history hasmusic's impact been more prevalent than in our churches. Now, aWaterloo congregation is bringing the power of music to studentsat a local elementary school.

Started in 2016, the No Strings Attached program connectsmembers of Unity Presbyterian Church to fourth and fifth-grade students at Waterloo's Kittrell Elementary School. The secularafter-school program puts stringed instruments in the handsof just over 40 youth, teaching them how to play and bringing empowerment and encouragement into their lives.

"This program is about empowerment. It's important we teachthem good music, but it's also important we teach them they are loved, that they are worthy, that they are valuable human beings," said Rev. Christine Kaplunas, pastor at Unity Presbyterian and director of No Strings Attached. "This is not just about getting themusic right."

When Rev. Kaplunas was called to serve her current congregation, she sought to bring the church beyond its four walls and to have it reach into the community. She also broughther passion for music, a degree in violin performance, andexperience teaching stringed instrumental music to youth. She presented the idea of the No Strings Attached program to hermission committee and then to Kittrell Principal Dr. Audrey Wallican-Green, who immediately found value in the proposed program. The church provides food, volunteers, and funding, and the school provides the rehearsal space.

As a small, grassroots program, No Strings Attached relies on partnerships to provide students with a top-notch experience. Its partnership with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa allows the program to attract good teachers by paying them a fair salary. A CFNEIA grant also helps pay to repair the instruments on loan from the Waterloo Community School District.

"The grant makes a difference between having just a small handful of students versus having an entire class. The Community Foundation's commitment allows us to continue our work," said Rev. Kaplunas. "This type of program is not easy to fund or tomaintain over the long term. This is a volunteer project."

The students in the program come together every Wednesday to experience music, build social bonds, and receive love and encouragement from volunteers who tell them that they are enough. Rev. Kaplunas says the gifts given by volunteers are also received in a life-changing way.

"God has given us so many gifts with no strings attached, and yet we put so many strings on our gifts. This is a gift this church gives with no strings attached," said Rev. Kaplunas. "If we've put any strings on this program, they are that we want these children to be resilient and compassionate and empowered to do good."