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Jessica Garand, right, with student Aiyanna Ramos.

Yofred Moik/Yofred Moik

Jessica Garand

Founder, executive director and teaching artist mentor

Opportunity Music Project, New York

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OpportunityMusicProject.org

Schooled at home from a young age in St-Urbain, Que., Jessica Garand was 9 when her mom suggested she learn to play a musical instrument. They observed a cello class and violin class; Ms. Garand chose the violin because the cello teacher was scary.

Fifteen years later, the Juilliard graduate has performed at Carnegie Hall as principal violist of the NY String Orchestra Seminar and is on her way to start a doctorate in music performance at Stoneybrook in Long Island.

Ms. Garand, 24, fuels her passion for music by providing free music lessons to underprivileged kids in New York City, through a project she launched in 2011.

First step

Three summers ago, I was sitting in a café in Montreal, near Place des Arts, with my friend Senam Kagni, talking about her birth country, Togo. We were talking about how a person's potential can be determined by the circumstances they are born into and this got me thinking about all the kids that don't have an opportunity to play a musical instrument. It took me three years but when I moved to NYC, I found the time, the place and the people to help me offer free music lessons to kids.

The pitch

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OMP provides an instrument (violin, cello or viola), one hour a week of instruction and mentoring to children and teens from low-economic backgrounds from all five boroughs in New York City. The participants are selected based on their passion and dedication, parental involvement, and demonstrated financial need. We lend the instruments out without a fee and encourage kids to take the instrument home so they can practise. The classes are held in a vacant spot at the Lovin' Life Learning Center where I worked as a cleaner when I first arrived in NYC.

Impact

In just over a year we have engaged eight teachers and 21 students and we are enrolling seven more students next January. Our students range from 4 to 15 years old and we focus on expanding their interest in traditional classical music and their social development. A major part of OMP is that participants give back to their community by providing free performances to the elderly, the homeless and in community centres and hospitals.

Proudest moment

One of my students, Emmanuelle Lo, raised nearly $700 on her own initiative for OMP in a benefit concert. When I found out via email, I was struck by the domino effect. I realized that each student in OMP has a seed that will grow to propel him or her to become a future leader in society.

Personal fun factor

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I love playing music with friends and family, especially when grandpa Gilles sits down at the piano and sings his Québécois compositions, and Grandma Mary pulls out a rhythm section on the spoons! I also cannot live without cycling.

Personal heroes

My parents make me cry with their daily heroic feats. My mom homeschooled my three younger brothers and me and she would drive each of us twice a week for music lessons in Montreal: that makes 16 trips a week. She believed strongly in the power of the arts. My dad started his own cartography company. He helped me start my own business to pay for my college tuition. I sold roses in restaurants and bars every weekend for my four years as an undergrad at McGill. My dad would drive me around the Montreal suburbs with my bucket of roses.

What discourages you?

Active ignorance.

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I believe that a powerful way to speed social development is through music and I believe that leading governmental figures can help move this movement forward starting with President Obama.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Farah Mohamed is president and chief executive officer of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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