After attending her friend’s funeral, Rose Banuelos knew that she needed to make a change in her life, especially since her friend died of a milder version of epilepsy than what she had. She realized the fragility of life and decided she wanted to give back to her community by sharing something that she loved: music. 

“At his funeral, I just changed,” says Rose, a songwriting major at Berklee Online. “It’s like I morphed into someone different. I made a promise that I would live the rest of my life purposefully … so I started providing my community with free music summer camps.”

Rose established the nonprofit, Music for Purpose, which began as a free music program for children in her community in Vista, California, then bridged over to serve orphans and at-risk youth in Honduras.

Rose raised the money to start her nonprofit through donations and by holding live benefit performances across the US. In 2015, she caught a plane to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where she has been teaching music to at-risk children ever since.

Music for Purpose students practice the “dut, dut” at a rehearsal led by Rose. Afterward, they enjoy a hot meal.

Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates and levels of sexual violence. Lack of afterschool programs and parental supervision leaves school-age children susceptible to gangs, so Rose wanted to give them a sense of purpose and belonging with a safe place to learn music.

Rose teaches her students the drums.

“They’re poor and so a lot of the entertainment comes from the gang members,” says Rose. “Every child wants to matter. So, who are the ones that are going to entertain these children that want to matter? The gang members. So, I’m there to keep them busy. I’ve been building a drum line and we basically fund ourselves.”

Rose gives a peek inside a drum lesson at Music for Purpose.

Rose teaches nearly 40 students how to play the drums, something she learned from her marching band days in high school. Often, her responsibilities extend beyond just music education. When she realized that her students were coming to practice hungry, she reallocated funds to make sure they were getting meals.

Music is not the only lesson Music for Purpose students learn. Community service is also part of the program. “They have been taught that they are the future leaders of Honduras and that we need to start acting like it now to create change in a much-needed country,” says Rose. Here they are pictured after cleaning trash off the streets. 

“Every once in a while my family says, ‘Rose you can’t be working too hard—You’re going to work yourself to death’ and it’s like, how can I not work?” she says. “I’m alive, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. … I can take these kids to something as simple as pizza. So, I can take them out, I can work rehearsals, I can motivate them, and I can be creative with my life.”

While running Music for Purpose, Rose wanted to continue her music education and take advantage of a scholarship that she earned through AmeriCorps. She didn’t want to leave Honduras to go back to school, so she began searching the internet for online music programs when she stumbled upon Berklee Online. Rose applied and was accepted into the songwriting bachelor’s program. She remembers crying when she told her parents the happy news over a video call. 

“I don’t cry a lot, but I was so emotional,” says Rose. “I was like, ‘Mom of all people, they chose me.’”

Because of medical obstacles, Rose’s educational journey at Berklee hasn’t been easy. She had to take two semesters off and go on medical leave more than once. She is currently back in the US recovering from surgery. 

Rose realized that she didn’t know any songs about Thanksgiving to sing with her students, so she wrote one herself! Her brand new music video features friends, family, and her classmates from Berklee Online. The video is dedicated to the children of Honduras.

Going forward, Rose hopes to expand her nonprofit’s instrument offerings beyond drums. Right now she is trying to raise $2,000 to purchase 17 new trombones, trumpets, and cornets. 

“This year, I want to introduce brass instruments,” says Rose. “So, I’m hoping once I recover that I’m able to somehow get donations. I don’t know how, but I’m here because of the faith that I’ve had so far. So, one way or another it’s going to happen.”

If you would like to make a donation to support Music for Purpose’s goal to buy new instruments, visit their Gofundme page.

 Published October 28, 2019