Lost Voices Empowers Teens to Find Their Voice through Music

Using songwriting as a positive creative outlet for youth.


Music, Kindness

(Nejron Photo / Shutterstock.com)


Music has a universal power that helps people from all walks of life find creative expression and healing. Lost Voices is an inspiring initiative that provides teenagers with challenging backgrounds with a platform to express themselves through music, helping them find their voice and heal from trauma. In a world where the voices of marginalized youth often go unheard, this powerful movement seeks to change that narrative. 

"Most people vaguely know that they're there. They have no idea what the kids are like, where they've been, what's happened to them," Mike Ball, the founder of Lost Voices told CNN. He firmly believes that these young individuals are often overlooked and unheard by the world. Ball's mission is to change that by bringing their voices out into the open.

Finding lost voices
Ball first encountered this vulnerable population in 2005. Invited to speak about his writing career working with challenged youth near his Michigan home, he saw these kids and had an epiphany. "I saw these kids coming in [the room], and I thought, 'My god, they're just like other children, they're just in a different situation,'" he continued.

As a writer and music enthusiast, Ball recognized the potential of songwriting as a positive and creative outlet for these young individuals. Motivated by this realization, he rallied local folk and blues musicians to join him, and in 2007, Lost Voices was born. With a track record of impacting over 2,500 vulnerable youths, these initiatives have facilitated profound therapeutic breakthroughs, according to the organization.

Lost Voices conducts weeklong programs, sending musicians into residential treatment facilities to engage with the children in small groups. Through this collaborative process, the musicians guide and assist the participants in crafting their own songs, ultimately helping them find their unique voices.

The trauma-informed care approach is a pivotal aspect of the Lost Voices program, and Ball and his team possess specialized training to effectively implement it, according to CNN. Their primary objective is to establish a safe and supportive environment where children from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable expressing their emotions and navigating challenging experiences without fear of judgment. "I'm often surprised by the songs they write," Ball shared with CNN. "Sometimes they're silly. But beneath the silliness, they're really revealing. Sometimes they're heartbreakingly real."

Ups and downs with COVID
Having pursued music and writing from a young age, Ball transformed his passion into a fulfilling career as a columnist and author. Drawing upon his own experiences, he recognized the immense value of providing these young individuals with a platform for creative expression and personal growth, he recently said in an interview with WEMU’s Jeremy Baldwin.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Michigan Humanities Council, Ball created what he called a “roots” program.

“We were set up to do our most aggressive year of programs with the kids. We had all these programs lined up at different facilities, and everything was just rolling along. And then, wham! Literally, the day before we were due to start with them with the lockdown [started],” he continued. Ball pivoted and the course met online.

Chosen as a featured charity for the 2021 Ann Arbor Marathon, Ball decided to use the kids’ own words as signs of inspiration along the marathon route, he told WEMU.

“I went into the last fifteen years of Lost Voices lyrics that the kids have written and just pulled out lines. There are lines like ‘You should have seen me overcoming,’ ‘All my fears I put behind me,’ and ‘Cry a river, build a bridge.’ These incredible little things. They're all song lyrics that these troubled kids came up with,” he continued.

Honoring personal stories
In one of the Lost Voices branches near Detroit, the individual narratives of the young women at Vista Maria residency each possess a unique story, reports CBS. Some of these stories contain elements of sadness, while others may present a facade to shield themselves from the outside world. “We sit down with children, we let them wander around in their deepest hearts, and we help them to put that to music,"  explains Ball.

Ball purposely focuses on folk music as a path to expression, according to CNN. “We’re not walking in doing the kind of music they normally would listen to,” explains Ball. “And that’s intentional. If we were doing R&B or rap or pop, whatever it is, they tend to go to the artist that they like and do their thoughts rather than their own thoughts. With us, they have to go off on their own, and it keeps them from channeling other people. They’re not doing (a famous artist), they’re doing themselves, and that’s really important.”

 At the end of each Lost Voices session, Ball facilitates a concert for the kids. As he told CNN, “Our work is never complete until it’s shared.” At the concerts, Ball told WEMU, “Those kids get that maybe for the first time in their lives, people not only care about what they think, but they will also give them applause and show that care.” 

In each Lost Voices program, the emphasis lies on creating a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere, Ball told CBS. This environment encourages participants to explore their deepest feelings and ideas without fear of criticism or rejection. By offering a platform for creative expression, these programs allow young victims to confront and articulate their experiences through the medium of music.

Through the unwavering dedication of individuals like Mike Ball and the collective efforts of the musicians involved, Lost Voices serves as a beacon of hope for these oft-forgotten young souls, proving that their stories and talents deserve to be heard by the world.

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