Community Music Center’s Cuban Charanga Ensemble — from the Mission District Young Musician Program — perform at Mission Arts Performance and Project in 2018.

The pockets of the San Francisco Community Music Center just got a little heavier, thanks to a recent $16,200 grant from the California Arts Council Youth Arts Action, a program that supports statewide arts and culture projects.

The money will help fund the center’s Mission District Young Musicians Program, a tuition-free and bilingual Latin music program for students ages 13 through 18.

“It felt like a great endorsement to our school and our program,” said Julie Rulyak Steinberg, executive director of the Community Music Center.

Specifically, the grant will be used to sponsor students’ lessons and performances and to pay teachers, as well as provide practice space at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, with whom they have a partnership.

For Steinberg, the Youth Arts Action grant was a perfect fit for the Community Music Center because of its dedication to making music education financially accessible at the community level. “It felt like home to us,” said Steinberg.

Of the 244 grantees, 826 Valencia, Brava! for Women in the Arts, Jamestown Community Center and KALW’s summer podcasting institute were also funded.

Founded in 2006, the Mission District Young Musicians Program has provided students lessons through ensemble groups and individual private lessons.

“We try to cover a wide range of genres and styles of Latin music and the history of the music,” said Miguel Govea, a faculty instructor.

She said students benefit from in-person instruction from experienced musicians. “This is learning that can’t be replaced with YouTube,” Steinberg said.

It’s an immersive program, she added, emphasizing that students not only build upon their technical skills, but also develop “wonderful team-building skills and community relationships.”

Most recently, students in the program have performed at community events, such as San Francisco’s Carnaval and Cinco de Mayo festivals, and in collaboration with Buena Vista Horace Mann’s Mariachi Program and Ballet Folklórico Cuicacalli.

“It’s so important that we’re keeping part of the culture alive,” said Govea. “It feels like a feat.”

While students are nominated by their public school teachers from San Francisco Unified School District to audition for the program, it is not school-based.

“It’s voluntary, so we’re just so happy with the way the students are engaged,” Govea said. “They get really motivated.”

Govea, who has been involved with the program for 13 years, started out as a parent volunteer. He proudly noted his daughter was the first alumna to return to the program as a teacher.

“What I’ve seen is a trend in how the program has impacted students,” he said. “I’ve seen them become young adults in terms of leadership development and just overall human growth.”

The value of the program, Steinberg said, is that it’s “truly reflecting the culture, persevering it, and sharing it with the next generations of students.”

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