Before writing, there was storytelling.
Everyone’s story contains countless memories and pieces, some insignificant, some full of meaning, and some we’d much sooner forget. But we have the power to rewrite our stories. Every day can be a fresh start, a new year full of beginnings.
In 2007, Casey LeVasseur lost her 13-year-old brother, Alex, in an ATV accident. To permanently memorialize Alex, their parents, Stephanie LeVasseur and Jeffrey Steele, established The Alex LeVasseur Fund at The Community Foundation.
Over the past 12 years, the LeVasseur family has been hard at work brainstorming, fundraising, and creating programs that uphold the Fund’s mission: supporting overlooked and at-risk youth in Tennessee and beyond.
“We didn’t just want to go around and raise money and throw his name up on a building if it didn’t mean something to our family and if it didn’t mean something to what he would have been involved in or would have enjoyed,” Casey LeVasseur says.
Alex enjoyed skateboarding more than anything. So that was his family‘s first focus. They created a skateboarding scholarship program, partnered with The Tony Hawk Foundation, and constructed the Alex LeVasseur Memorial Skatepark at the Brentwood YMCA, which opened in October 2010.
In 2013, the LeVasseurs opened the Alex LeVasseur Multi-Media room at the YMCA in North Nashville. Builders designed the space to give underserved youth access to video and music equipment and also pay homage to Alex’s love of making homemade skate videos.
Shortly afterward, the Brentwood YMCA contacted the family about plans to open a media room of their own to coincide with their Y-CAP (Youth and Community Action Program) initiative — an outreach program that serves at-risk teens in grades 8-12.
“Steve Saxton, who runs the Brentwood YMCA, shared about Y-CAP with us,” Casey recalls. “And we just thought, ‘That’s it.’ I mean: You have youth that are in the juvenile system, they’re in group homes … they’re at that cusp where if there’s no intervention, there’s no mentorship, if there’s nothing happening — then their story is written already. And we thought what a great opportunity to partner with them and do something.”
About this time, Casey began working with The Beat of Life — a therapeutic songwriting program provided to human and social service organizations, founded by Nashville musician and songwriter Jeni Dominelli.
“We basically exist to create songwriting and music programs for vulnerable populations,” Dominelli explains. “People who are on the outskirts of society, people battling anything mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. who can use music — in particularly songwriting — as a healing mechanism and a way to reframe and think differently about their stories.”
For the LeVasseur family, that’s when everything seemed to click.
“I just kept thinking, gosh, it would be so cool to take this program and bring it to Y-CAP and into Alex’s room here,” Casey says, “and see how we can impact these students and this youth and, you know, kind of break the cycle.”
After some fundraising and a miraculous anonymous grant, she had $10,000 of seed money to create programming for one school year with The Beat of Life for Brentwood’s YMCA Y-CAP initiative.
Being a teenager is so difficult. Emotions ebb like the ocean tide, with pressures from peers and parents and the constant feeling you’re navigating these treacherous waters alone. The Beat of Life wants its participants to know they are not alone. There are people who not only care deeply about their stories, they want to provide a vehicle to share them, heal from them, and grow from them.
The Beat of Life now visits Y-CAP twice a month. That isn’t enough, LeVasseur and Dominelli insist. Their vision is to be able to find funding to run the program on a weekly basis.
Because time is such a huge part of the healing process. And because every songwriting session is a chance to be the big breakthrough to helping save some young person’s life.Give to the Alex LaVasseur Fund