LEMONT – Sarah O’Donnell was surprised how bare the shelves were when she went to volunteer at the Lemont Food Pantry.
Taking piano lessons at a music school in downtown Chicago at the time, the then freshman at Lemont High School thought of a way to help. She started giving piano lessons in exchange for a monthly $20 donation to the Lemont Food Pantry.
“I wanted to do something,” said O’Donnell, now a freshman at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “I like piano and I wanted to volunteer to help the pantry.”
The first year it was just O’Donnell giving lessons, leading five students in half-hour individual sessions at her home. However, word spread about the program and she added her younger sister, Shannon, and another instructor and more students the second year. The program has continued to grow and now Shannon, a senior at Lemont High School, is running the Lemont Plays for Food program.
Having not given lessons before, Sarah said she was very nervous when those first students came to her house.
“I wanted to be a good teacher,” she said. “It took a few weeks to get used to all of them and that each student goes at his or her own pace. I had to get used to that. I got more comfortable with everything and I had a lot of fun teaching.”
Lessons are a half-hour once per week from September to the end of May. Times and days are worked out between the instructors and parents.
The program has raised $8,000 for the Food Pantry in five years, with 10 students taking lessons in the program this year. Students in the program have ranged from 4-year-olds to eighth-graders.
Lemont Plays for Food will continue on even after Shannon graduates. Emma Bozue, a LHS junior, will coordinate the program next year. Bozue plays violin with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, but will be teaching piano to younger students. Lemont Plays for Food is also now listed as an outlet for students’ required service hours in the National Honor Society.
Shannon said the program helps parents of beginners gauge their child’s interest in piano in a cost-effective manner.
“I think it is really good. Most young kids are not sure how much they like piano,” Shannon said. “Rather than paying $20 a lesson when kids are just starting out, this is a little bit easier.”
Lemont Plays for Food will have its second-ever concert May 16 in a choir room at Lemont High School, giving families a chance to see the progress of the young piano players.
Sarah plans to be at the concert.
“It will be nice to see kids I helped in the beginning and taught, seeing how much they’ve improved – from playing one note on the piano to playing different songs,” she said.
Shannon, who will follow in her sister’s footsteps to IIT next year, hopes with Bozue in charge next year the program can expand to violin lessons and possibly other instruments down the road.
Neither Sarah nor Shannon see music as a career path, but both feel they may go back to providing instruction again someday when older.
“I think the program is great for the teachers. It is a good opportunity,” Shannon said. “It makes their college applications stand apart.”
High school students who have played piano for several years are invited to be teachers in the program, whether or not they are students at LHS and whether or not they are members of the National Honor Society.
Potential teachers and students for next year can contact Bozue at firstname.lastname@example.org.