Youth Initiative Project sponsors local music mentorship program

Chris Anthony’s nonprofit sponsors new music mentorship and education programs for local students

Isabel Thomas, 13, records her performance of the national anthem. The video was played before thousands of people at the “Mission Mt. Mangart” premieres in Denver and Beaver Creek.
Lachie Thomas/Courtesy Photo

The premiere of Chris Anthony’s movie “Mission Mt. Mangart” was an unveiling not only of his film, but of his latest nonprofit initiatives with the Youth Initiative Project.

Anthony created the Youth Initiative Project to connect young people, primarily in Colorado, with mentors and impactful educational experiences. So far, the project has reached over 80,000 kids, the latest of whom is 13-year-old Isabel Thomas, an eighth grade student at Eagle Valley Middle School.

Anthony connected Thomas, an aspiring singer, with Denver-based professional blues artist Erica Brown, and sponsored voice lessons so that Thomas could develop her talents and perform the national anthem at the movie premiere.

“It’s all about that mentorship, putting the right adult or right mentor in front of and inspiring kids,” Anthony said. “Which has been, unfortunately, totally destroyed over the last year and a half with the pandemic, because every single experiential program at schools has completely disappeared. It’s hard to put a measurement on that, but if they’re locked in a classroom or masked up or not even allowed to go to school, they’re missing out on a huge developmental part of their lives. So right now, this stuff is really, really important.”

Brown worked with Thomas to improve her technical skills and face her stage fright, and over the course of three months helped her build up to a moving performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” that was filmed and played for audiences at both the Denver and Beaver Creek movie premieres.

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“For a 13-year-old to be able to move a room of a thousand people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds with the song that she sang is an absolutely marvelous achievement,” Brown said. “I am so proud of her.”

Now, Thomas said that she is working towards auditioning for “The Voice,” a nationally televised singing competition, and that having Brown’s support and encouragement has given her the confidence to go further in her singing career.

“When I got there, Erica was so welcoming, and she had such a fun attitude that it was easier for me and she helped me adapt to it,” Thomas said. “She definitely boosted me up. It’s reassuring that I’m not going into this alone, and if I ever need anything, that she can help me and is there to mentor me.”

Building these empowering mentor relationships is at the core of Anthony’s nonprofit work. Following the success of this initiative around the “Mission Mt. Mangart” premiere, Brown has also agreed to develop additional musical programming for the Youth Initiative Project, and has created a template for teaching the national anthem to students in classrooms.

“In the grand scheme of things, it is a really, really important song for so many reasons,” Brown said. “The lesson plan I did targets the middle grades because they’re just starting to get a grasp on musicality and starting to look at the history of this country, and the music around this country. And that is one of those songs that is so inextricably woven into the fabric of who we are as a nation.”

Anthony and Brown will continue to work on programming to impact more young lives through music in the coming years.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to working more with Chris and with the Youth Initiative, and to build this thing and reach more youth,” Brown said. “We’re trying to figure out how to unite us as a people — as young people, as older people, students and teenagers, all of that – and just come together, because that’s what it’s about. We’re all just trying to come together.”

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