Youth Find Their Voice at Ozone Ypsi

By Crystal A. Proxmire

If you want to see a success story unfold on stage, visit the Heritage Festival's Frog Island Stage on Aug. 18 between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and look for Tiffany Cho, Trisha Gwinner and other youth from Ozone Ypsilanti and Community Records. Ozone Ypsilanti is a youth drop in center that provides food, counseling, job training, connections to social services and other resources. Most importantly they provide a safe space for youth to hang out and learn from positive role models. It is an offshoot of Ozone House Ann Arbor, where youth find transitional living assistance as well as other supportive programming.

Community Records is a music-based nonprofit that spreads music education with songwriting competitions, performances, and helping youth produce their own music. Unfortunately the founders of the five-year-old organization will soon be hitting the pause button while they figure out the future. This is all the more reason to see the performance on the 18th. Cho and Gwinner came up through Ozone Ypsilanti while the music program was at its height, offering plenty of fond memories. Upstairs in the Ypsilanti location, is a recording studio where Community Records would help youth with their recordings and even making music videos. The experiences of making music, recording it and doing live performances has given the young people experience that has helped them excel in other areas of life as well.

Singing in Korean

At "almost 19," Cho is confident but humble in her abilities, often doing cover songs from her favorite bands unabashedly before an audience. She and dance partner Chris Lewis perform songs like "I Love You," "I'm the Best," and "Clap Your Hands" sung in Korean just like hit band 2ne1 does.

"I love 2ne1," Cho said. "They're the female version of Big Bang. I love them because in Korea girls are supposed to wear skirts, but 2ne1 wears Addias guy shoes and pants." Cho said she likes to sing in Korean because it "brings culture" wherever she performs. When she begins Washtenaw Community College in the fall she'll be continuing studies in three languages: Korean, Spanish and Japanese.

Being involved in Ozone House, and being encouraged to sing the way she wants, has helped her in her education path and given her a way to express herself that she may not have had otherwise.

"They advertised a poetry slam at my high school," she recalled. "They really liked my poetry and they asked me to go on to Project Speak Out in Chicago, where we used poetry for advocacy.

"We had a coach for poetry that taught how to get us writing and how to get us thinking. The experience was phenomenal. Youth from all over the world were speaking their minds. ...Before the first performance all the groups got together and said our name and what we were there for."

Cho grew in her boldness, and said that in high school people would come up to her and ask her how to overcome nervousness. "I'm just as nervous as you are," she would say.

"But what makes me able to do it, is I want that message to be heard. For some people it's scary but if you want your message to be heard you need to face it," she said.

Gwinner is a little more reluctant to perform, and still is not sure if she will perform at the Heritage Festival (though hopefully this article will help nudge her in that direction). She has participated in the Community Records songwriting workshops and has performed in small groups. Ozone Ypsilanti offers an open performance space every Monday from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., where youth like Gwinner can do poetry or music in a non-judgmental place. Wednesdays are Pride Zone, a meet up of LGBT youth and their allies.

Gwinner is 18 and has been coming to the center since she was 13. She is now part of the Solo Program, which helps young adults get an apartment and learn to blossom into adulthood by teaching them life skills and helping them adjust to living on their own. She also works at the center, doing cooking for the youth on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

"I've been coming here since I was 13 and it's given me a lot of stability. I have a job and I get to help the youth that come in now," Gwinner said. She is going on to study culinary arts in college and says she really enjoys being able help the younger people who come to the center.

"We all need help sometimes," she said. "It's nice to have that kind of help just for the kids. They can come in here and grab food out of the fridge, or we have canned food and stuff they can take with them."

Doing a video for Ozone House was just one of the many fun things she's done over the years. One video was a contest for Toyota where Gwinner was one of the youth featured doing work on stage and in the studio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4bCNss5fIU.

"I would have never have thought I'd be able to perform in front of so many people. But without Ozone I would never have found the music side of me," she said in the video.

Sue Dvorak, development associate at Ozone House, is impressed with the work that youth have put into the various programs, including their musical pursuits. She pointed out that for the Frog Island Concert the youth helped write the grant that funded the show, and they produced it and will be performing. Even though it may be the last performance with Community Records, it's not the end of all that Ozone has to offer.

Work Zone

"We're sad to see Community Records taking a break," Dvorak said, "But we want to keep an emphasis on the programs that are continuing. Work Zone is a program that is helping get the youth employed, and we're really focusing on that. Ozone started in 1969 as a place for runaways, and we've kept evolving to meet the needs of youth. Right now the economy is an issue for our youth."

In addition to the show on Aug. 18, Ozone House supporters are looking forward to the Center's biggest fundraiser of the year, an Evening at the Farmer's Market. On Friday, Sept. 7, there will be an open-air dinner at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market celebrating local chefs, local businesses, and Ozone House's service to youth in our community. This annual event features an elegant meal prepared by local chefs, wine, beer, a signature Ozone House drink, live entertainment, and a silent auction. Last year, the event attracted over 300 guests and 90 volunteers - raising more than $70,000 to support their services. Reserve seats by contacting Sue at sdvorak@ozonehouse.org or at 734.662.2265 x26. For more information about Ozone House visit their website at http://ozonehouse.org.

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