MU student Melissa Contreras gives piano lessons to a young SWAN participant

One out of every 28 children in the U.S. has a parent in prison, and these children are 72 percent more likely to end up in prison themselves. According to the American Correctional Association, states spend $7.1 million per day on confining juveniles to correctional facilities.

For Diana Vuolo, founder and executive director of the nonprofit SWAN, which stands for Scaling Walls A Note at a Time, these statistics are unacceptable. And the figures are equally as unacceptable for Millersville University. The University has partnered with Vuolo’s Lancaster branch of SWAN to help children of incarcerated parents by providing free music lessons, ensemble training and performance opportunities.

“This is [SWAN’s] second year of providing music lessons in Lancaster County. SWAN is a unique organization and nothing like it exists anywhere in the United States, except for a pilot program in Austin, Texas, that Diana’s sister, [Cynthia Smith], is running,” said MU’s Jess Yorks ’13, who works in Millersville’s Office of Experimental Learning & Career Management (ELCM) as Project Cygnet coordinator for the AmeriCorps VISTA, a program designed to fight poverty in America.

“SWAN seeks to break this cycle of crime by intervening early through music in children’s lives to guide them toward a more hopeful, fulfilling and meaningful future before they commit crimes. Thus, SWAN’s mission will not only change the lives of the children who receive the lessons, but it can repair their hurting families, and, if these children do not commit crimes, it will also make our communities safer and save taxpayers a great deal of money,” Yorks said.

Currently, more than 25 children receive music lessons through SWAN in Lancaster County and 10 MU students provide music instruction. An additional 11 MU students provide non-direct services for the organization.

Elijah Green, a Millersville freshman majoring in music education and a member of the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME), teaches guitar for SWAN. He began instructing two boys over the winter break at the Gap Family Center in Gap, Pa., and recently added three girls to his lesson program at Opera Lancaster.

“I like the impact that I have on the children’s lives. I have faith that what I do makes a difference. I always enjoy going to my lessons and look forward to the next week as soon as I leave. As an instructor, I get to be a role model to the children, and positive role models change lives,” Green said.

SWAN has also partnered with the Lancaster City-based Portal Percussion, a chamber percussion trio comprised of three MU alums: Rich Klimowicz ’13, Brian Doherty ’13 and Matt Bracciante ’13, all graduates with music degrees. Established in the fall of 2011, while the trio was still undergrads, the goal of Portal Percussion is to perform professionally and use its music to reach out to the community and beyond. Its members work directly with children in the SWAN program.

“The mission and vision of SWAN serves such an incredible purpose that when the opportunity presented itself, there was no question about wanting to involve Portal in the growth of the organization. The challenge we were faced with was what we could do professionally to help assist SWAN in continually moving toward achieving its goals. One of the goals is to reach out to 50 students in Lancaster and get them involved with SWAN to help make a difference in their lives,” Klimowicz said.

Portal Percussion developed a drum circle program that would allow the three men to facilitate a group session beyond just one or two music lessons and one that would allow them to bring the children together as a team. Portal Percussion gives one-hour group sessions every Friday at Saint Joseph’s Church in Lancaster.

“We wanted to create something unique and inviting that would get the children excited and motivated about coming together each week to play music. Our drum circle allows students of all ages to come together in one room and share the excitement of performing music, expressing creativity and building confidence while developing the ability to work as a team,” Klimowicz said. “This is just the first launch of the program this winter, but we hope to grow larger, expand further and get more students involved as we go further down the road.”

Dr. Mary H. Glazier

According to Yorks, who earned her MU degree in psychology and sociology, SWAN owes much of its success to Millersville’s Dr. Mary Glazier, chair of the sociology department and director of MU’s Center for Public Scholarship and Social Change. Glazier met Vuolo at a Children of Incarcerated Parent Network of Lancaster County (COIPNLC) meeting, and Glazier arranged for SWAN members to meet with the music department and with NAfME to foster a relationship with faculty and students, one that would allow them to build a future partnership together.

Glazier also introduced SWAN’s staff to Dr. Changfu Chang, professor of communication & theatre at Millersville, whose class produced a documentary for the organization. Glazier enlisted the help of Melissa Wardwell, interim director of ELCM, Yorks and Dr. Victor DeSantis, dean of graduate studies and research, to develop an even greater Millersville/SWAN partnership.

Yorks is especially grateful for the help of public relations students in the classes of communication & theatre department chair and associate professor Dr. Thomas Boyle and of Dr. Theresa Russell-Loretz, associate professor of communication & theatre, who work with SWAN to promote its mission.

“Between all the various relationships we are constantly building, we’ve engaged nearly 30 students from four MU departments with various projects for SWAN, which will certainly help SWAN grow and serve more vulnerable children in the Lancaster community,” Yorks said.

SWAN is sponsoring a public awareness event at Tellus360 in Lancaster on Saturday, April 5. Students in the SWAN program will perform for the community with Portal Percussion, and the public will have the opportunity to learn more about SWAN.

The first event is Spotlight on SWAN, 1-2 p.m., and is open to the first 100 people who register for the event. A free lunch and gifts will be provided. The second event is Open House SWAN Showcase, 2:30 – 4 p.m., and is open to the general public. Tellus360 will have food and drinks available for purchase.


For more information about SWAN, how you can help or details about the event, please go to

This article has 1 comment

  1. Jerri Anne Johnson

    Another way in which Millersville shines. Special kudos to Dr. Glazier and others that are bringing this program to this underserved population. I am so proud to be an alum. Keep it going!!!!

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