Charles Lewis spent a year and a half sleeping on a friend’s couch while he orchestrated the opening of Portland’s nonprofit Ethos Music Center.

So while the 2012 process of getting Youth Music Project established in West Linn had a certain familiarity for Lewis, YMP’s executive director, a few key differences stand out. Besides Lewis’ own experience, the biggest may be that, this time, his young startup had a sponsor with deep pockets and a commitment to using its resources to serve children.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Emma Comer of Oregon City performed the Quarterflash hit Harden My Heart with her mother, Quarterflash keyboardist Mel Kubik, at YMP on July 26.That sponsor is the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, an organization with West Linn roots. The foundation is bankrolling YMP for now, including providing the funds to buy and remodel the 12,500-square-foot building that YMP is just now settling into.

“Fourteen years ago I started a music school on my credit card,” Lewis said. “That was quite an experience.”

Despite the differences, he said the YMP startup has been amazing.

“It’s quite an investment the foundation has made,” Lewis said. “I’m excited to be a part of it and help make it happen.”

With an acoustically treated performance space that will accommodate 200 spectators and that features professional lighting, remote cameras and a direct line to two, professional-grade recording studios, as well as 22 soundproofed, individual classrooms, YMP is poised to serve as many as 1,000 students from West Linn, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, Oregon City and the surrounding communities each week.

The YMP building, located at 2015 Eighth Ave. in West Linn, was purchased by the foundation for approximately $2.5 million and remodeled on a $1 million budget. An additional $1 million will be spent in the future to remodel the building’s exterior. The foundation has paid the bills so far, providing free rental and use to YMP and promising five years’ support, Lewis said.

“After that, we’ll start to transition to getting grants,” he added. YMP is a 503(c)(3) nonprofit.

Lodged in temporary quarters in West Linn’s Willamette neighborhood, YMP opened its doors in January 2012, offering music lessons during the school year as well as summer camps.

“All that time, we were working on finding a new building,” Lewis said.

This summer, YMP offered six weeklong camps at its new permanent home as well as group and private music lessons — all while working on the building’s remodel, which has been ongoing.

“We’ve been focused on getting this building up and running,” Lewis said. With that project nearing completion, “we’ll work on expanding rapidly into a much larger music school.”

As YMP grows, it will continue offering music classes and camps to students regardless of their ability to pay. About 70 percent of YMP students receive free or reduced tuition, based on their lunch status with their school district. Students who qualify for free lunch receive 100 percent scholarships, and students who qualify for reduced-price lunches receive 75 percent scholarships. Since the summer of 2012, Lewis said, the foundation has provided $100,000 in scholarships.

“It’s a very important thing for the foundation, to make sure music education is accessible to every kid,” he said.

The YMP site is designed to be much more than a music school. Lewis’ vision includes professional musicians offering community performances as well as open-mic events for students. In addition to the auditorium, the individual practice rooms and recording studios, when all the work is completed, the site will feature a green room to accommodate visiting artists, a retail space offering musical instruments for purchase or rent, an espresso bar and a café offering things like sandwiches and pizza to students attending after-school music lessons. The site also includes a dance studio, currently under construction, that boasts a Harlequin sprung floor. Lewis said that YMP is seeking a nonprofit dance instructor to offer classes in that space.

According to Rachel Bany, YMP’s marketing coordinator, the organization is eager to become a community partner and encourages students and their families to visit nearby establishments.

Classes are being offered now for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Registration for the new school year opens Sept. 7, with classes scheduled to begin on Oct. 7. The classes are designed to go beyond the music programs available at schools. Not every student is interested in school options like choral performance or symphonic band, Lewis said, and YMP’s focus on rock, country and pop music may strike a chord with students who are uninspired by their school’s offerings.

“We give every child a chance to join a rock band and rock out,” he said.

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