Notes of Inspiration

NHBP Tribal Youth Accepted into Prestigious Arts Academy

Written by Leslie McLove | Photos by Tribal Member and Photographer Johnathon Moulds

“A life full of doubting yourself and hesitation is a life wasted.”  – Javier Chich

One person. One conversation. One encounter can change the trajectory of your entire journey. There is no truer testament to this than the story of 15-year-old NHBP Tribal youth Javier Chich’s, journey to the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Northern Michigan.

When he was younger, Chich always listened to music, but just the thought of playing a musical instrument gave him intense stage fright. “Music has always been that calm place for me, and piano was a favorite growing up, but I never partook in playing,” said Chich.

So then, how does a 15-year-old from the small town of Athens, Michigan— who just began playing piano in September 2022 —make his way into one of Michigan’s most prestigious music academies?

Through hard work, resilience, dedication and the help of an amazing family and Community.

Interlochen Arts Academy

215 miles north of the Pine Creek Indian Reservation lies the town of Interlochen, Michigan, home to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where a group of young adults from across the world arrive each year with aspiring minds and big dreams. Interlochen is a residential education program that offers high school students the opportunity to pursue their passion for arts while learning in a classroom setting and focusing their studies on their chosen area of interest.

According to the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ website, “Since 1928, Interlochen has offered an immersive arts experience that fosters a sense of closeness discovered only through a deep, shared appreciation. A true artist’s retreat, Interlochen invites students of all ages, for once-in-a-lifetime arts education programs designed to hone their skills and nurture their humanity. Here, we are united through the universal language of the arts.”

Opening Mind to New Possibilities

Interlochen Center for the Arts was first brought to Chich’s attention after he sent a clip of himself playing a song on his keyboard to his mother, Tribal Member Jennifer Fish. Excited to share her son’s musical talents, his mom then played the clip for NHBP Behavioral Health Case Manager Dave Beatty.

“She held up her phone and started to play a clip of him playing the piano. I was just blown away,” said Beatty. “That 30-second clip brought tears to my eyes. I realized then, that he had a gift.”

“This story is about how good hearts carry on, beyond death,” said Beatty who went on to explain how 40 years ago, his late mother, who was a high school counselor in a small town in Michigan, recognized that one of her male students was a gifted artist. “My mom helped that student through the application process for Interlochen. Many well-known artists and celebrities got their start at this school. The young man my mom helped, went on to be an actor and a gifted sculptor in New York City. After I heard that clip of Javier, I thought immediately that he, too, needed to go to this school! Thank you, Mom; you helped another young, beautiful soul after all these years.”

Equipped with this new goal of attending Interlochen full-time to pursue music, Chich wondered how he would make this dream a reality. Unbeknownst to Chich, he was about to be afforded an opportunity to unlock new levels of potential and find the confidence to push against his limitations.

“I wanted to go to Interlochen because I knew I probably wouldn’t reach my full potential if I didn’t expand outside the town of Athens,” said Chich.

Chich plays songs on his keyboard during going-away party.

Making Connections through the NHBP Youth Learn Work Program

In the summer of 2023, Chich joined NHBP’s Youth Learn Work program. He was assigned to work alongside CEO Barry Skutt, Jr. and Executive Assistant to the CEO Lori Geiger during an eight-week internship.

“From the first day, I noted that Javier exhibited the characteristics I would have expected in a seasoned project manager. I was very impressed to see that level of intuitive, systems-thinking and calm composure in someone about to turn 15,” said Geiger.

During a conversation one day with Geiger, Chich mentioned his passion for music and desire to attend Interlochen. Geiger wasted no time, stepping into her role as a servant leader. She worked diligently side-by-side with Chich and his grandmother, Tribal Member Wanda Norman and NHBP Behavioral Health Consultant Angela Gingerich to find out how to make this dream a reality.

Together, the four navigated the extensive and highly competitive admission process, including a video piano audition where he had to play two contrasting pieces to demonstrate his piano-playing abilities. With the help of NHBP Audiovisual Production Specialist JW Newson, Chich was able to record his video audition showcasing his talents.

To help Chich overcome his stage fright, Geiger encouraged him to showcase his musical stylings on multiple occasions during his time in the Youth Learn Work program.

“The greatest gift was his mastery of the soft skills shared through his music. Javier brought his portable keyboard to work and entertained us outside during lunch breaks,” said Geiger. “NHBP employees were delighted, and for a brief time, we forgot the pressures of the day.”

Chich worked up to performing in front of larger audiences when Geiger requested that he play his music at the beginning of an NHBP staff training session as part of the icebreaker.

“I explained the purpose of an icebreaker and left the choice of music to Javier. He chose a few pieces from Beethoven and played with a passion that gave the participants a feeling of serenity,” said Geiger. “I have determined that the word ‘astounding’ is no exaggeration when describing Javier.”

Keys to Success

In August 2023, Chich received his acceptance letter into Interlochen Arts Academy. Throughout the 2023/24 school year, he will complete his sophomore year of high school at Interlochen, focusing his studies on Classical Piano Performance.

Chich said the thing he looks forward to the most is, “meeting people who are like-minded and talented.”

Some individuals who helped shape his artistic identity include, “the amazing Lori Geiger and my piano instructor Glenn Ghetty. Lori guided me so much during my Youth Learn Work program journey. During my time there, I learned valuable life lessons. In preparation for, and throughout the week of the 2023 Gathering of Potawatomi Nations, she helped nurture my artistic identity by letting me perform on several occasions. Glenn was such a great instructor, and I appreciate that he took his time with me and helped me learn new skills as I developed more in the music world. Through his guidance, I’ll master my skills,” said Chich.

During challenging times, both musically and personally, Chich maintains his resilience by knowing that he always has “the amazing individuals from the NHBP Behavioral Health and Human Services Department like Dave and Angela, and a very supportive family and Community,” to lean on.

Working alongside other aspiring musicians and artists of all disciplines, Chich now has the opportunity to expand his artistic vision beyond the piano and derive inspiration from all aspects of the arts. Long-term, he plans to continue evolving as a pianist by going to college and majoring or minoring in music. He would also like to venture out into performing on stage.

Notes of Inspiration

This new opportunity for Chich will undoubtedly shape his future in unimaginable ways.

Prior to his departure for school in August 2023, NHBP hosted a surprise going-away party that was attended by family, friends and fellow NHBP team members. It was an opportunity to send Chich off in a good way. Those in attendance were able to watch his piano audition video submission, listen to him play music on his keyboard and enjoy cake in his honor.  

Chich and his family celebrate during going-away party.

“I wanted to thank David, Angela and Lori. Without the three of them, I am not sure how we would have gotten through this application and admissions process,” said Norman as she addressed those in attendance for the surprise party. “Sometimes, I go home and just want to cry because I am so happy and grateful for all the help I’ve received from everyone here at NHBP.”     

Chich’s story is just one of many that shine light on the unlimited possibilities available at your fingertips if you persevere and hold tight to your dreams, nurture your relationships and always strive to do your best no matter what may be holding you back.

For the aspiring Tribal youth who are just starting to hone their artistic talents or may think their goals or dreams are unattainable, Chich has a message, “Just go for it! A life full of doubting yourself and hesitation is a life wasted.”

In her recommendation letter to Interlochen, Geiger summed up Chich’s character perfectly: “Javier is a deeply caring person who demonstrates intelligence and character beyond his years. It is a rare and wonderful gift that gives him the ability to bring his whole self to the world through music. Music is the language that Javier speaks to give love back to his people.”

And in return, the NHBP Tribal Community congratulates Chich and is proud of his accomplishments, and we can’t wait to see you grace the stages with your musical talents.

CLICK HERE to see the photo gallery from Chich’s going-away party.


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