menu Menu
My Voice Music: Igniting Self-Discovery For Oregon
United States
Previous Next
My Voice Music: Igniting Self-Discovery For Oregon

Authors: Alfonso Hernandez (Guatemala), Rebecca Kim (USA), Jenny O’Connor-Madsen (Ireland), Evangelos Saklaras (Greece).


My Voice Music (MVM) was developed at a residential lockdown facility for young people experiencing mental health and behavioral challenges. MVM’s founder Ian Mouser, who was a treatment counselor in the facility, recounted the environment as one where residents received all the basic resources to live and medically treat their symptoms. However, even with these needs met, violent outbursts and conflicts frequently occurred, for which the facility’s typical response was physical restraint or isolation.  The program lacked regular, normative activities that could provide residents with an outlet for their stresses and emotions, such as sports or creative arts. 

  One event that Mouser’s facility produced was an occasional talent show.  With the news of an upcoming performance, a few residents approached Mouser, a guitarist, for help in preparing an act. In response to this request, Mouser organized a six-member band, provided them with instruments, and helped them write a simple song to perform. In the days following their performance at the talent show, the facility staff noticed that the need for behavior and violence interventions decreased and class attendance improved. From these circumstances, Mouser realized that regular music-making activities could create a positive and potent impact in residents’ lives.  Research supports Mouser’s findings, as it has been shown that music can support the healing of those who have been traumatized. Research also shows that music can offer relief from the rigid schedules of residential care life. Music “creates spontaneity… and takes you to a place where you can leave the regimen and go off in a world that you create and that you connect with on your own terms”.

Upon the success of this pilot project, Mouser was encouraged to continue engaging residents in music-making activities, and in 2008 he established My Voice Music to reach youth beyond the residential facilities. Now in its thirteenth year, MVM reaches over 1500 youth between the ages of 8 and 24 per year in Portland, Oregon. According to the organization’s 2018 Annual Report, among the youth they reached were 635 in crisis, 341 in mental health hospitals, 94 in foster care, 99 in behavioral rehabilitation, and 30 refugees. MVM offers a variety of music-making opportunities and programs with different goals and levels of involvement. Their main studio is located inside Portland’s Sunnyside Community Center, where participants come to write, play, and record original music. With the mission of “amplifying young voices and igniting self-discovery through music” MVM has developed its model to focus on self-expression and community that serves as the uniting force among the various program selections. In all their classes, MVM students are expected to collaborate with a diverse group of peers regardless of their musical experience. Their services range from weekly Artist Mentorship Programs – where small groups rehearse, record, and workshop songwriting guided by an MVM teaching artist – to Hip-hop labs, private lessons, or simply becoming an Open Studio for youth to gather after school. 

While the program has expanded beyond residential institutions, MVM continues to maintain reiterations of MVM’s pilot project in partnership with three residential facilities. Chris Arnold, an MVM Program Leader and Teaching Artist, explained these activities as opportunities for residents to “step away from all of that therapeutic intervention… to have fun and play some music, and you know, it passively does some of those therapeutic things anyways”. The Satellite Programs, which are similar to the studio classes that include ukulele, guitar, singing, and songwriting, are facilitated by MVM core staff members including the Studio Director, Program Leaders, and a Licensed Social Worker and Child and Family Therapist. 

Studying the work that My Voice Music has been doing for Portland’s youth and community at large has been a rewarding experience for our Case Study Team. We were inspired by our interactions with Ian Mouser, who tragically passed away in October 2021, shortly after our second interview with him. While Ian’s death  was upsetting for our team, we felt motivated to continue our work and honor Mouser and the insights he shared with us. The experience gave us an insight into our own ability to be resilient and to continue with our work when faced with loss. In the wake of his passing we have witnessed the MVM community mourn, honor, regain strength, and move forward with renewed energy in the past months. Their example has motivated us in our research. My Voice Music became  a story of resilience, unity, and shared vision for all of us. 

However, we think there could be another possible way to continue supporting their beneficiaries under such variable circumstances.

“Studying the work that My Voice Music has been doing for Portland’s youth and community at large has been a rewarding experience for our Case Study Team.”

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music


In January 2020, MVM won the Lewis Prize Accelerator Award, which includes a grant of $500,000. With this funding, MVM established three main goals: building a new recording studio in East Portland, expanding the program’s reach with “MVM Across Oregon” and publishing a MVM “Manualfesto”, a publication on their outreach model that will be available internationally. The impetus for the “MVM Across Oregon” initiative lies in the realization that access to mental health services in rural areas is harder to come by than in Portland. Having recently begun the planning phase of this expansion project, a barrier that the organization has identified is the  lack of connection with the potential partners and staff needed outside the Portland area. Therefore, our team suggests that MVM create a series of online professional development workshops that aim to recruit new talent for its expansion efforts as well as educate active musicians in their model and method, advertising their “Manualfesto” in the process.

MVM has a unique approach to working with young people and a well-established model for doing so. Professionals and students from multiple sectors would have much to gain from studying the MVM method. These sectors include education, counseling, music performance, music therapy, psychology, public health, and more. Online workshops via zoom would also serve as a targeted recruitment opportunity where they could meet people from these sectors outside of Portland. To develop the workshops, MVM can test ideas in its pre-established leadership program, and have members of that program review the impact of its activities. Including interactive elements in the workshop would allow MVM to establish more personal relationships with the workshop attendees, and make following up with them for partnerships easier. Additionally, scheduling these workshops in line with the publishing of their “Manualfesto” could add marketing value for that endeavor as well. They could even focus branding these workshops on its debut.

With Mouser’s recent passing, the program finds itself at a crossroads of how to move forward without his leadership. Expanding the program to rural regions via “MVM Across Oregon” was the first step of Mouser’s vision for a nationwide MVM and we believe that pursuing this goal can be a great unifying and healing force for the organization that will simultaneously provide motivation for achieving it. 

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music


MVM’s professional development workshops can help expand their network and ultimately cultivate their staff in new locations. A tangible impact metric should assess an increased network of artists in areas and communities where interventions similar to MVM’s are not present. Additionally, in publicizing and teaching from their “Manualfesto”, they can influence the practice of trauma-responsive care.  Many practitioners may be aware that music can support the healing of those who have been traumatized. But what is perhaps less understood is how critical the facilitation of an activity is to its impact. Research shows that the quality of teaching is crucial as to whether any benefits are realized. Over the course of MVM’s existence, it has developed an approach that has provided positive results throughout the lifetime of MVM, and to the testimony of one particular MVM participant, can even save a life.

In this way, training will benefit workshop participants and as a natural extension, the people that they reach. One of MVM’s biggest assets is the cultivation of a facilitative teaching approach among their staff. Facilitative teachers are qualified by their ability to “capitalize on positive teacher/student relationships to  guide and motivate students, value the perspective and  expertise of the students” as well as “encourage student ownership and  empowerment, instill a natural discussion and  decision-making process and use challenges as opportunities.” After having successfully completed the online training, subscribers will acquire skills and knowledge on MVM’s model of facilitative teaching that can be applied in many contexts, and ultimately impact the lives of many youth in trauma beyond the reach of MVM or its expansion efforts. The workshop could be incentivized with a certificate—in facilitative teaching, for example—that could also help working professionals enhance their résumés. 

To measure this venture’s impact in terms of MVM’s expansion efforts, in the frame of a year, the organization will need to look at the metrics for talent recruitment, as well as new location partnerships and the number of new participants at those locations. Following the impact of the information disseminated in the workshop would be difficult, however other than following up with connections made here with the goal of recruiting staff and partnerships, MVM could also track the reach of their “Manualfesto” informing possible partnerships as they continue to expand, or even providing opportunities to monetize their publication or create further professional development workshops. We hope that these workshops will directly benefit MVM’s expansion efforts, and will be interested to see what other positive byproducts and potentialities are discovered in the process.

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music


MVM’s training will increase the potential of launching Satellite Programs in three new locations across the state of Oregon in 2022. A goal of one year allows time for planning and development and the learning can be applied to further expansion in 2023. We have outlined the first phase of growth for 2022, in the knowledge that a similar plan could be adapted and used for subsequent years. 

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music

Q. 1: Planning (January – March 2022): The beginning of the year will focus on the planning and desk research surrounding the next stages of growth and development. This should include a survey open to all musicians in the state that seeks to understand their experience, interest in professional development and knowledge around MVM. The surveys would also provide an opportunity to highlight the work of MVM to new stakeholders. Simultaneously, the staff and teaching artists would work to develop the first stage of training for new tutors around the state. This would be planned in the form of four Zoom interactive seminars to take place at the beginning of Q2. The seminars would include opportunities to put participants in breakout rooms to brainstorm and network with others involved. The participants should be grouped by their location to allow for potential networking and development opportunities down the line. Along with the seminars, we would suggest that MVM create a Google Classroom where all participants can access background material to MVM, including their philosophy, strategic plan, a list of YouTube videos of performances and workshops, etc. We would also encourage the staff and teaching artists to record videos for the Google Classroom introducing themselves and their work with MVM. This will give participants the opportunity to get to know those they will be interacting with within their own time, and they can revisit them if needed. 

Q. 2:  Online Training (April – June 2022): The workshops will take place at the beginning of April 2022. A desired outcome from the training will be to identify a small number of participants who are interested in further training. Teaching artists from MVM will identify the key characteristics that they are hoping to find in participants. The MVM process of reflection, which is referred to as a “lesson plan sandwich” of plan/do/reflect would be an important aspect to integrate into the planning. What are the plans and what do they hope to achieve, who are they looking for, deliver the workshops and then reflect on the process – were there any gaps, who stood out, etc. Following the online workshops, MVM staff will consider the potential of the participants to deliver in an MVM satellite hub and they could be invited to attend the MVM summer camps in Portland. This opportunity will include reflection sessions between the MVM staff and the new recruits on their experiences and the opportunities and challenges that they see in the work. 

Q. 3: In-Person Mentorship (July – September 2022): During the summer months, the newly identified recruits will travel to Portland to shadow MVM teaching artists during their summer programs. This will provide them with face-to-face mentorship and the opportunity for active  learning with the existing MVM team. During this time, MVM staff and new recruits will identify a number of potential venues in their chosen locations and will reach out to them to establish the possibility of renting spaces and the costs involved. This will allow for budgeting and planning for the new academic year in Fall 2022. Considerations should include cost-effective venues that are accessible to potential students. MVM will also need to begin to activate advertising and social media campaigns targeted at the new locations to get the word out about the programs. Possible opportunities for advertising would be to offer a free workshop in a number of high schools close to the locations to help gain participants in the first instance.

Q. 4: Evaluation (October – December 2022): We hope that MVM has developed to a minimum of three new locations across the state of Oregon. The celebration of this achievement could be acknowledged as part of Ian Mouser’s Anniversary in tober 2022. At this point, it will be important to reflect on what has been achieved, how the new locations are running, difficulties that may arise, and budgets for 2023. 

“We hope that these workshops will directly benefit MVM’s expansion efforts, and will be interested to see what other positive byproducts and potentialities are discovered in the process.”


Since 2008, My Voice Music has proven itself successful in positively impacting the youth of the Portland community. It has a consistent following and a high level of local participation. It has built deep relationships with its partners and beneficiaries, and with such a solid foundation, now is an ideal opportunity for them to grow and develop outward to new communities that could benefit from their services. With the loss of MVM’s founder Ian Mouser, adamantly pursuing his expansion dreams would offer the MVM staff the opportunity to honor his memory. It is clear from everyone we have spoken with, MVM’s memorial events, and social media tributes that Ian was well respected and loved in the community. Although our team only met with  him twice, we felt connected and deeply inspired by his work and MVM. Other than our value-added concept proposal, we would be interested in seeing more social media presence to spread the word about the day-to-day work and developments of MVM. The organization has a cool, Millennial, and “Gen Z” atmosphere that is very Instagram-friendly, and we believe that there is a lot of potential to build a following that could help further expansion efforts. This could include, but is not limited to, Instagram stories with teaching artists and participants to showcase a day in the life of their work, short videos and clips of works in progress, and a repository of videos on YouTube that showcase the work of the participating groups each year. This will support the growth of the organization, as alumni are some of the best advocates and advertisements and in the future, it will help MVM to tell their story and showcase their impact.

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music

Our team would first and foremost like to thank the late Ian Mouser for his profound vision and for inspiring us. We would like to thank MVM staff Chris Arnold and Trent Finlay for keeping us connected through trying times, as well as Eric Booth and Pedro Zenteno from the Global Leaders Program for their support in this special situation. Through this process, we have learned that for creating social impact, the type of music or activity does not matter so much as the approach to the activity. From our perspective, the most important elements to MVM’s are a good team, a thoughtful, responsive approach, and its focus on relationship building and community. These elements have helped MVM work from a position of profound authenticity and care that serve as an excellent model for running any organization focused on making a social impact. For our team, working with MVM has inspired us to aim for authentic connections within our own individual work and to continue to remember the importance of human connection.

Photos Courtesy of My Voice Music

“Since 2008, My Voice Music has proven itself successful in positively impacting the youth of the Portland community. It has a consistent following and a high level of local participation.”


Previous Next