"Getting involved with music actually opened my head up to the possibilities of learning."
For most youth in trouble with the law, the last place they expect to find themselves is enrolling in a school of rock.
But for a lucky dozen from Toronto, a new community outreach program aimed at preventing them from reoffending allows them to compose and perform music.
The program is offered to youth who, as part of their sentences, must give back to their community.
Students learn how to rock, so they can learn how to roll with the challenges of everyday life. PACT stands for Participation, Acknowledgment, Commitment and Transformation.
Community volunteers teach students the skills they need to play. And some of them, like Kevin Porter, who is leading students in the rudiments of rock ‘n’ roll guitar, know first-hand what it is like to get into the kind of trouble that can put a person on the wrong path.
For Porter, who dropped out of high school and left home at 16, feelings of not feeling plugged in to life are very familiar. Back then, he says he didn’t want to be self-sufficient, he didn’t want to get a job and he was running into situations where he could have made some bad choices.
But after finding a guitar and learning how to play, Porter, now 47, found the passion to unlock his own potential.
"Getting involved with music actually opened my head up to the possibilities of learning," he said.
For Porter, who went on to have a successful career in teaching music to others, including Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, the rock school allows people who have been through some bad times to learn from his, and other instructors’, similar experiences.
"It’s designed to sort of take care of disadvantaged youths and give them an opportunity to buy into or take advantage of the same passion that I felt when I started playing," Porter said.
And so far, it seems to be working. "I wasn’t the type of person to hop into a band of people and be ready to do anything. I was all about doing everything by myself," said a young offender who is taking part in the rock class sessions.
But the youth, who cannot be identified, also says putting himself in a situation where he has had to work with others and learn from their talents has made him more apt to rise to the occasion.