LANESBOROUGH -- Playing the violin has been more than just a musical exercise for 9-year-old Leila Parades of Pittsfield. It’s also helped her academically.
"She’s reading a lot more," said Leila’s father, Jose Paredes.
Leila and her younger sister, Nicolina, were among 30 young, budding Pittsfield musicians enrolled in a program called "Kids4Harmony" who participated in a shoe promotion sponsored by Payless Shoe Stores on Saturday at the Berkshire Mall.
After playing a short program of classical music, the youngsters, who ranged in age from 4 to 12, used gift certificates supplied by Payless to purchase a new set of footwear.
Berkshire Children and Families, which sponsors the Kids4Harmony program, was chosen by Payless to participate in its shoe giveaway program, which the company began five years ago.
Properly fitted shoes are considered important to a child’s health and development, and Payless started this program because studies have found that a large number of children own footwear that doesn’t fit.
Natalie Mendez, 7, of Pittsfield beamed while showing off a new pair of boots with brightly colored laces she had purchased at the store.
"I wanted them real bad," she said.
Kids4Harmony is an intensive after-school classical music program for children of low-income families that in the Berkshires is sponsored by Berkshire Families and Children. It is based on a 38-year-old music and social justice program known as El Sistema. The local initiative began in October 2011. A total of 120 youngsters currently participate in the initiative, according to Simon Brown, the site director for the El Sistema program at Morningside Community School.
The orchestra includes string instruments like cellos and violins along with some percussion. Members practice after school two hours a day, five days a week.
"I think it’s great," said 8-year-old Kayden Lovallo, who used her gift certificate to purchase a new pair of slippers. "I always wanted to play the violin. I had seen violin players in movies, so this encouraged me to just play."
"It makes me feel happy," said 7-year-old Geivens Dexter in a soft voice.
The discipline the youngsters use to master classical music pays off in a lot of other areas.
"It’s a way of showing kids classical music, but there are a lot of other things around it," Brown said. "It shows the children and their families what each child is capable of. The music is secondary."
The hard work paid off on Saturday with the youngsters receiving discounts on footwear. Lynn Terelle, the director of development for Berkshire Children and Families, smiled while reflecting on the day’s events.
"They’re having a wonderful time today," she said.
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