A Winning Formula

Chicas Rock and Turntable Academy transform area youth and build their self-confidence by empowering them through music.
By: Sarah Tindall

Chicas Rock and Turntable Academy have spent the last few years changing the way Corpus Christi thinks about kids’ music programs. Chicas, which started four years ago as a summer camp for girls, has grown into a year-round program with dozens of participants. The concept is revolutionary; the girls enter the program and are immediately one of the band. They are broken up into groups who write and learn to play songs, which they then perform for each other. They learn how to write music, play instruments and sing, but along the way, they learn something else: self-confidence.

“The idea was for creating a space just for girls where they could express themselves and build their self-esteem and confidence through music creation and performance in a cool environment,” says Cecy Trevino, the founder of the organization. She is herself a musician, and she says that growing up as a female musician in the male-dominated musical world and being Hispanic made her feel strongly that she needed to reach out to young girls to help them along in the industry.

Turntable Academy has proven equally successful in appealing to boys. Boys enter the program and are taught the basics of being a DJ – how to use the equipment, how to use the beats and the music itself to create art and how to interact with a crowd. But they’re also learning self-confidence.

According to Founder Dusty Oliveira, for the boys in his program, the notoriety and respect they get from peers is life-changing. “We had two boys in particular who came in super shy, but now they are the coolest guys in Corpus. They couldn’t find their calling in sports or whatever, couldn’t find what they were good at, and then they find their home here. We have a bunch of kids who went through our program that are DJs now, and you can just see it in their walks that they have the self-confidence and pride in what they’ve accomplished. When they’re spinning, everybody comes up to listen to them. The other DJs know who they are.”

Now Chicas and Turntable are gearing up for the annual weeklong summer camp that has remained a mainstay of their program since the beginning. This year, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will host the camp, which will run from July 28 to Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the university’s campus. Kids ages 8 to 17 will be able to participate, but only 60 to 80 will be allowed in camp, so slots fill up fast.

The girls will be placed in groups of four to six and given instruments, and each group will be assigned a band coach who stays with them all week. They will then write an original song, which they will perform at the end of the week for the group of parents and friends who gather to watch the show. The instruments are guitars, bass guitars, drums and keyboard. The formula is working.

“We had one girl come in who was so shy that her mom and I had to hold her hand to get her to come into camp,” Trevino says. “By the end of the week, she got up with the band and sang a song. Her mom couldn’t believe it and started to cry. It’s amazing how this experience can transform these kids.”

The goal is not for the girls to just learn music. “It’s more like they learn how to build their confidence and self-esteem,” Trevino says. “Turning girls into rock stars is not our main goal; rather, we are a program dedicated to empowerment.” The camp also features motivational speakers for the kids, who seek to inspire them to broaden their horizons and teach them to make goals and aspirations and work hard to achieve them.

“It’s crazy how it happens. The kids come in here not knowing how to play or sing one note, and by the end of the week, they look great up there, performing a song they wrote. In between songs during the performance, the boys get up and DJ, and they’re all showing each other support and cheering each other on. It’s like a mini festival.”

When camp is not in session, Chicas and Turntable offer after-school sessions for kids to continue honing their skills and give them the opportunity to perform in real venues. They do everything from writing their own music to learning the covers they play when performing locally to making their own set lists and making their signature denim vests covered in patches for the performances.

The girls are even responsible for promoting their own shows by making flyers and posting them around town and using social media to get the word out. They perform at Buc Days, ArtWalk events, ARTrageous at the art museum, fundraisers and even shows with Clarissa Serna. “Chicas Rock is now a local band,” Trevino says. “They come in to perform, switch instruments and have name recognition when we are out in the community.”

Now the group has become like a family. When one of the girls had a parent pass away in a tragic accident, all of the girls came together to do a fundraiser for her family. The parents are involved, as well, and they help the girls do everything from transport instruments to decorate the Buc Days float. And all of the kids participate in community outreach activities like cleaning up the water gardens and volunteering for other local organizations.

The Turntable boys are out in the community, too; some of them are actually making the party circuit, earning money and building a reputation. “These are kids who didn’t feel special in school, didn’t feel like they had anything to offer, but when they are in here, they feel like the coolest kids in town,” Oliveira says. “They learn they can do anything here.”

The next step for both programs is an urgent need for more space. They have outgrown the space at PRODUCE downtown on Peoples Street and are looking for a bigger space in a more central location so that more kids can participate. The goal is to expand with more classes and even private lessons, as well as to have 24-hour access to the facility so that the students can come work and play any time they are free.

As a result, the future looks bright for these youth outreach programs. “Music is hard to perform onstage because you’re doing something nobody else can do and it’s so personal,” Trevino says. “Our kids are showing themselves to the crowd and putting themselves out there, and it’s amazing to watch.”

For more information about Chicas Rock and Turntable Academy, or to register for summer camp or the after-school program, go to www.chicasrock.org

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