New perspectives: Local students appointed to Niles nonprofit board

Published 5:50 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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NILES — A popular annual summer attraction aims to expand its reach and preserve its future with the help of local students.

Niles Music and More, a nonprofit organization dedicated to granting local artists exposure and bringing entertainment to Niles Riverfront Park through its annual Summer Concert Series, recently announced the addition of four high school student interns to its nonprofit board.

The Niles Summer Concert Series was founded in 2018 to fill the void of musical events at Riverfront Park. Niles Music and More founder Caryn Adler said each concert acts as a fundraiser for other nonprofits located in the 49120 zip code, with each band choosing a Niles nonprofit to share the billing slot with. Adler has a list of active 501c3 nonprofits from the area, ranging from focus on the arts to children in need, to seniors and healthcare.

Niles Music and More formed as a nonprofit in 2019, opening access to grants and more. In 2023, the Niles Summer Concert Series relies mostly on sponsors to pay for musicians and the occasional sound technician. They have also taken over the sale of Niles Historic Ornaments, previously offered by the Niles Service League, keeping that tradition alive and raising more funds to go toward the music.

Adler recently sat in on an Andrews University non-profit class taught by Ferry Street Resource Center Director Ric Pawloski, which inspired her to restructure her board and  incorporate youth in the planning process.

“I had built my board in a way that worked best for me and I was able to do all the work. But I see a period of growth coming for us and I saw that we were at a crossroads,” Adler said. “One of the crossroads was we could just dissolve the concerts because I couldn’t do it all and this is where the class came up at the best time. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about running a nonprofit and this class was so valuable and actually was able to help me create what we didn’t have, and help me put the board together in a way that they shoulder some of the work. I give up control and we continue our growth with new people and new perspectives.”

Adler reached out to Niles High School Principal Michelle Asmus and six students expressed interest with four ultimately deciding it was something they wished to pursue. All four students are sophomores who will be able to experience the nonprofit process for a minimum of two years. 

Scarlet Thalman has fond memories of listening to her father perform at the amphitheater as a youth and was recommended the opportunity to join the board due to her love for music.

As one of the four students joining the board, she is excited to help foster a space where teens can feel welcome.

“I have so many fond memories of being downtown and there’s such a need for things to do for people in high school because we don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “There’s a lot of cool places but you have to have $20 to go out for a day and it’s so nice to have a space downtown to be able to go there and hang out with your friends and things like that.”

According to Thalman, her teacher recommended the opportunity to her due to her love for music. In addition, she is eager to learn the ins and outs of nonprofit work.

“I didn’t realize how many new people I’d be meeting right away,” Thalman said. “It’s been nice meeting the different people and seeing their perspectives on all the things and how it all comes together and that’s exciting to learn about.”

While the summer concert series continues to grow each year, Adler knows there is still much work to be done in increasing its visibility.

“After each concert, at least one person comes up to me and says, ‘Karen I never knew this existed in Niles,’” she said. “So to be able to increase the community’s awareness of the non-profit is huge for us because I can’t stand on a street corner and do it. This is the way that those of us who want to support our community and make life better for people can help by being involved with the concerts.”

The new-look Niles Music and More nonprofit board will meet for the first time Tuesday, April 30. Adler and Thalman look forward to working together as a board to ensure the enrichment and longevity of Niles Music and More continues for years to come.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help out with different aspects or what expertise I could bring from being younger,” Thalman said. “I could talk to people at my school and stuff and see how they get excited about having an event downtown that is catered towards them or something like that in the coming years.”

“I want us to stay relevant,” Adler said. “As a baby boomer. We’re going to get older and our attendance will go down. … Life experiences are a tunnel, but we can bring the perspective of somebody new who sees the world from a different dimension, who sees the concerts from a different dimension than those of us non-minors that are on the board. They will be able to see another perspective and keep us relevant for future generations.”