Weekly Meeting - August 21: Michigan Folk Musicians Helping At-Risk Kids, Saving Lives One Song At a Time

Speaker: Mike Ball is an an Erma Bombeck award-winning humorist, author, and singer-songwriter in Whitmore Lake. He started his music career in Hawaii at the age of 7 with a ukulele and a squeaky voice, much like Chris Thile did, and was fronting several “garage” bands by the late 1960s. He then switched gears to folk music; his compositions are frequently described as John Prine with a Jimmy Buffet twist.  His acoustic group, Dr. Mike and the Sea Monkeys, frequently plays well known venues such as The Ark. His humor column “What I’ve Learned So Far…”  is nationally-syndicated.  Its popularity has resulted in two anthologies: What I’ve Learned So Far… Part I: Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets and What I’ve Learned So Far… Part II: Angels, Chimps and Tater Mitts. He founded the non-profit Lost Voices to work with at-risk boys and girls living in residential placement facilities.

“Growing up is about choices,” Ball has observed,  “and sometimes young people make bad ones.” Lost Voices originally focused its work on kids who erere in trouble, most of them locked up, because of bad choices they have made. “We help them learn how to express their feelings,” Ball continues, ” in ways other than the destructive patterns that have been their way of life.”

The genesis of Lost Voices was in 2006 when Ball started a creative writing class at the W. J. Maxey Boys Training School in Whitmore Lake. With initial funding from the Michigan Humanities Council, his work quickly evolved into a music-writing program; the kids write the lyrics, while Ball collaborates with them to transform their thoughts into music. “These are really talented children,” Ball concludes. “Granted, many of them have done bad things, or they wouldn’t be locked up. But they are still kids, and beneath it all they are not all that different from your kids or mine. I always find it pretty amazing how much they are willing to dig down into their deepest feelings, how much they are willing to reveal in their songs.”

In recent years, Lost Voices has been focused more on kids who are in foster care because they have experienced major emotional trauma. Many are human trafficking survivors. But the methodology remains constant, The original roots music that they have produced, then performed before their peers in a professionally produced concert setting, still  leads to therapeutic breakthroughs in many instances. Our speaker will describe how Lost Voices goes about transforming lives.