The AmNews was a sponsor of the fourth annual Vaughn Harper Celebrity Gift/Toy Drive, which kicked off this year in an extra special way.

On Monday, about 40 lucky kids from Harlem Dowling enjoyed an early holiday treat. The tots got a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Sesame Workshop, where they had a chance to learn about music from topflight artists, including drummer Curtis Harmon from Pieces of a Dream, pianist Alex Bugnon, guitarist Nanny Assis and producer Barry Eastman. The children broke into groups and made the rounds at a series of stations, learning about different instruments, such as drums, piano, guitar, congas and the melodica (mouth piano), singing as well as electronic music recording and production.

This initiative, called “STEM + Music,” is part of Project Rhythm. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and now, Music.

“STEM is a national project that is being applied in a lot of school systems in the country in hopes of getting our students better prepared for future jobs. This organization teaches children 4 to 14 how to read, write, engineer and produce music, so we will have a portable studio here today. They are going to learn how the instruments are made, how pitch is made and also to learn the math part of it with notes and different beats.

“Our biggest objective is to get kids interested in the arts. We hope that one or two more kids will leave here with an interest in music,” said Alex Brown, assistant facilities manager of Sesame Workshop.

“One of our programs at Harlem Dowling is After-School Service, and that gives us an opportunity to expose our young people to opportunities that they wouldn’t normally have access to,” Karen Dixon, executive director of Harlem Dowling, told the AmNews. “Mr. Harper and Mr. [Maurice] Singleton have worked diligently with us. Their annual toy drive allows young people to get gifts that we take for granted for our own children,” she said.

“We are excited about all of the opportunities that we are able to provide to our young people in the community where the after-school program operates. To give these other forms of leaning opportunities to our young people is wonderful, especially for little girls. The whole Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program–that’s not something that young girls are raised to aspire to.

“I used to play the French horn so I understand how music gives you another opportunity,” she said. “Just learning to read a musical score is something that most young people don’t get exposure to. To be exposed to classical music, jazz and other types of music gives you a more diverse view of the world. The world is more than just the communities we reside in.”

Jamon Gilbert of Project Rhythm talked to the AmNews about the importance of combining arts with education. “We’re really big on connecting kids, especially underserved kids, to music education. We’re connecting music education to social and emotional growth, school performance and job readiness. This is the earliest stage that we work with kids. We go all the way to age 24,” he said. “We help guide them through their growth through different programs to full song creation, performance and recording, internships, placement and scholarships. It’s a full runway using music to help the kids grow socially and emotionally.”

Later that evening, the toy drive commenced at MIST Harlem on 116th Street. Guests were treated to a fabulous all-star benefit concert led by Bugnon. All proceeds from the event will support the building of the first computer center at Harlem Dowling.

There’s no doubt that a lot of children will have a happier holiday this year and a brighter and, hopefully, more musical new year ahead. Hats off to Vaughn Harper, Maurice Singleton, the Sesame Workshop and Project Rhythm.

For more information on Project Rhythm and how to get your child involved, visit