OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — For Zach Schafer and countless other children and teens, music is more than notes strung together and art is more than the flick of a paintbrush.
They're tools to help youth cope with loss and other challenges through a nonprofit called Band of the Strong.
Schafer is the president and executive director. During their events, music is played and listened to and art is made.
"We provide programming to help kids process through some of the most challenging parts of their lives by telling stories and connecting with each other as a way to create significant meaningful moments all for the purpose of rerouting loss into love,” said Schafer.
The organization started in 2016 along with Schafer's friend, Zak Courtney.
"The whole story of Band of the Strong came from kind of an expression of my own grief," said Schafer.
His father died when he was young.
"As a young man in the midwest, I was brought up and learned that to be strong was to clench your fists, to not cry, to do everything you can to just move on. But it didn't make the pain go away and it didn't mean that the pain didn't come back in different ways,” said Schafer.
He learned that his father could play guitar, so Schaffer started doing the same, finding solace through music.
At Band of the Strong's events, youth are given guitars not only to play — but to use as a canvas — promoting meaningful connections with others going through similar challenges.
"When you can paint something, when you can express something and you can see it, you can better understand it,” said Schafer.
Band of the Strong has teamed up with another nonprofit, Collective for Hope, during camps that help teens process their grief.
Annica Marcum, operations coordinator with Collective for Hope, believes creativity is a good outlet.
"We really enjoy using music and the arts. We think it's a way to express yourself without having to say the words because sometimes just getting the words out is hard,” said Marcum.
"In my case, I could listen to something that reminds me of my mom and that really helps me," said 17-year-old Nicolette Perdunn, who has attended several of the organization’s events. “They are a great group of people. I love them very much and they've helped me so much in my teenage years."
Grief is something that looks different for everyone — something that has no timeline — and Band of the Strong has helped hundreds of young people navigate those difficult feelings.
"I want people to know that they're not alone," said Perdunn.
During the pandemic, Band of the Strong has not been able to meet, but Schafer said plans to reunite are in the works.