My Voice Music’s Executive Director, Ian Mouser, Receives Skidmore Prize!

November 10, 2011


“My Voice Music is a place where young people have the opportunity to share their voice, to be heard, and to use that experience to change their world.  To work with such brave and passionate youth is invigorating.”  – Ian Mouser


“I saw how Ian reached our daughter – I truly consider him a gift that showed up in our life at a crucial time.  It’s that same compassion and ability to reach others through music that is poured into My Voice Music – Ian saves lives.” – Lisa Holmes, Parent of a Student

What is the Skidmore Prize?  

Since 2004, Willamette Week has given the Skidmore Prize to four people 35 or under in recognition of the significant work they do with non-profits in the community. The prize is inspired by the inscription on the fountain that reads, “Good Citizens Are the Riches of a City.  

This award includes a personal cash prize of $4,000 and inclusion in the Willamette Week’s Give!Guide –  The Give!Guide is an innovative initiative to inspire donors age 35 and younger with the spirit of giving.  By donating through the Give!Guide donors receive many incentives from local Portland businesses.  Check it out and please make a donation of just $10 or more – we are hoping to bring the most number of donors under 35 this year and your $10 donation can help us earn a $500 reward!  Click here to Give! through the Give!Guide

“MVM advocates self love and expression through music. It’s a group Amber (…my daughter) is involved in (she’s playing drums in some of that video). This group is alive because of charitable contributions and a vision by its founder that all children don’t respond by lying on a couch with the intro question of “How do you feel.” Music is their expression of feeling and it heals their heart and gives them a voice when words are hard to find. I recently learned more about its founder through Amber and the WW and it’s truly a wonderful vibe of hope, respect, encouragement, acknowledgment and happiness for each and every kid who is fortunate enough to be touched by a person with such a selfless vision. When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Thank you to Ian. From Amber’s mom :)”

Mouser, with other Skidmore Prize Winners on the Cover of the Willamette Week, November 9, 2011


Below are Excerpts from Ian’s Skidmore Prize Application:

Why did you choose to work in the non-profit field?

“I grew-up witnessing the positive effects that non-profit organizations can have on individuals, families and communities. The area I grew up in in Southern Oregon was very poor.  My own family struggled financially and experienced some very significant challenges that were only overcome with the support of churches, non-profit organizations and compassionate community members. As a child, I struggled behaviorally and emotionally for many years.  I was not succeeding in conventional settings until a non-profit organization invited me to become a part of their community and, consequently, offered me the opportunity to be seen for my best, and not simply for my challenges, for the first time in my life.  I understand on a personal level that non-profit organizations can provide opportunities that  break negative cultural cycles and create positive support systems that are transformative for both individuals and communities.

As an adult, I am fortunate to have found fulfillment in experiences that inspire, connect and empower personal transformation, first in myself, and at times in others. To work for an organization that provides life changing opportunities to people who would otherwise would not have them, and who may need them the most, is a true blessing.  Nothing makes more sense to me than investing in the lives our young people.”

What motivated you to work for your organization? 

“I was motivated to found, and work for, My Voice Music after I witnessed the unique and powerful role that music can have in connecting with youth who are not being reached in typical settings.  While employed as a Treatment Counselor  at a residential treatment facility I worked with ten to twelve year old boys diagnosed with mental illness and who were exhibiting extreme behaviors.  The environment was very stark.  Every door needed a key to be opened, the walls were white, chairs and other furniture were bolted to the floor so that youth could not pick them up and throw them.  Nothing sharp was allowed on the units and sometimes youth would be on “lockdown” for days.

One morning I brought my guitar to work and played it while the boys were waking up.  Chaos was replaced with calm.  The boys literally sat down in front of me and gazed up quietly while I played music .  It was the first time I had seen the group of boys together with their defenses down, just being boys.  That morning I realized how powerful music can be in bridging the gap between caregivers and youth.  I witnessed music as it replaced the chaos and insecurity of a typical morning and replaced it with a sense of calm and security.  

After that day, the youth on the unit began expressing an interest in learning to play music.  I began teaching them the guitar bass, drums and keys.  Children who were not given metal utensils, for fear they would hurt themselves or others, were allowed to learn on my band’s instruments. They were polite, courteous and excelled when around the instruments.  During the days that music lessons occurred, negative behaviors and physical restraints were down.  The boys eventually performed together during their school talent show!

While teaching music, I received many letters from therapists, teachers, counselors, program managers and foster parents informing me of the positive ways music had impacted the youth; school attendance was up; youth with barriers to forming positive relationships formed positive relationships with “band mates”; youth began expressing themselves constructively through music and grew in overall confidence; youth used music to cope and heal.  I learned that, while music is not a “cure-all” for youth experiencing difficult circumstances, it is amazing in it’s ability to create “normal”, engaging and fun experiences that can lead to significant breakthroughs and create life-changing moments in a very natural way. 

Eventually, the program I taught music at was shut down due to budget short falls.  After this, I began teaching private music lessons in addition to working full time so that I could ultimately afford to develop My Voice Music.  One of my first private music student’s families ended up donating a vehicle so that I could form My Voice Music.  Upon receiving this donation, I formed a board of directors and My Voice Music was recognized by the state of Oregon within a month.  I spent the next year attending classes, meetings and seminars in order to figure out how to run a non-profit.  We started our first programs in January of 2009 and were given 501(c)(3) status in March of 2009.”

What do you do that inspires or motivates others?  

“…One of the best stories I can tell at this point is of a young women who had moved from foster homes into residential treatment and back again several times.  Through My Voice Music’s groups she learned to play music and was not only inspired to become a singer songwriter, she was inspired to sing and play songs at her residential facility in order to help her peers to stay calm and feel better too.  She tapped into a powerful way to change her community for the better – and that power was her own voice!…”

What are your dreams / ambitions for your organization?  What do you see as your role in making these dreams / ambitions a reality? 

“My immediate dreams for My Voice Music are that after five years, we will continue to recruit volunteers and board members with enthusiasm, skills, and strategic ties to Portland’s community. I hope we will be able to have a full-time, paid Executive Director position in addition to several part time Program Leaders.  I want to see My Voice Music running  a diverse set of music programs that reach a wide array of youth both on a short term and long term basis. I want our programs to be reaching over 700 kids a year.   I want some of our students to be involved in volunteer work where they are using their unique skills and knowledge to help make their community a better place.

In ten years I want My Voice Music’s mission and organizational structure to inspire and empower musicians across the country to duplicate our model and bring life changing music programs to thousands of youth who need it most though often have the least access to it.   We will continue to have music programs in the greater Portland area, as well as, launch satellite programs in rural areas.  Our programs will have a reputation of compassion, excellence in service, and significant community involvement that all serve to provide opportunities for youth that would otherwise not them.  Some youth from our programs will be inspired to become musicians and use their music to help people….maybe they will even work for MVM!

My role in fulfilling these dreams is to continue to; create a bold and inspiring vision; to develop realistic plans in order to achieve our vision; be able to effectively tell the story of MVM to anyone who is interested in hearing it; set an organizational and program culture that is open to feedback and change while at the same time is focused on achieving specific goals; enable volunteers and staff to help My Voice Music by providing them with the tools and opportunities they need to be effective; be vulnerable and resolute; understand what is changeable and what is not; create an organization that is thriving and sustainable long into the future.”

Thinking of your personal goals, what do you hope to be doing in 5 years?

“I hope to be running a thriving My Voice Music and fulfilling our mission in the most effective ways possible. I hope to be independently releasing another album of my music that is interesting to me, my girlfriend, my mother, and, at the least, my most supportive friends.  I want to have hiked to the top of Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Whitney and be planning my next significant hike. I would like to be leading an international My Voice Music trip to build cultural connections between our youth, staff and other places (Haiti comes to mind) with kids in order to provide them with a life changing opportunity and a global understanding. I hope to continually be refining and renewing myself so that love may shine brightly through me, while that which dims it becomes less.  (I hope to keep my feet on the ground so that statements such as that last one have relevance beyond the rear bumper of a Volkswagen.)”

 “Almost everyone who works for a nonprofit is dedicated. For Ian, the dedication goes beyond showing up for work or envisioning what the future can hold for a grassroots organization. My Voice Music is at the forefront of everything he does, everything he thinks about, everything he dreams about. The exceptional part is how well-suited Ian is for this position in the community – his background, ethics, education (both academic and musical), people skills, and desire to help the community at large are all very present in what he does, every minute of every day.” Alison Arella, My Voice Music Board Member

Watch a video of Ian’s Award speech.  He tells the powerful story of how music can help youth to cope, heal and thrive.

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