Enabling Youth Leadership through Music

The Music and Mission Road Trip is a project that invites high school and college students to lead with intention through their musical, personal, and budding professional lives. Music is the vessel in which the mission of leading action is achieved. A group of seven students, ranging from ages 16 to 21, collated themselves into the band, Rapport. The pilot program took place from June to August 2023.

This six-week project was split into two main components: it began with two preparatory weeks in Portland, OR, followed by four weeks on the road touring through Bend, OR, Walla Walla, WA, Spokane, WA, and Skagit Valley, WA. Each day was organized to follow the SPIRRS process, which highlights the Spiritual, Physical, and Intellectual/Emotional personal pools we get to invest in each day, then the Relationships, Resources, and Services we pour ourselves into. Participants began most days with private reading, reflection, journaling, and a trip to the gym to meet spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical needs. These practices “filled their cups” to allow for an afternoon of intense music devotion and teamwork.

First performance in Portland, OR on the Big Red Bus
First performance in Portland, OR on the Big Red Bus

The Beginning in Portland

In mid-June, participants and staff gathered in Portland, OR to begin living and working together. During the opening two weeks, participants devoted most of their energy to modulating self-care and learning how to listen to each other both in the team building context and musically. To encourage this, we focused on essential internal care skills. Specialists in voice and harmony, rhythm and guitar, and media promotion were brought in to expand student’s outward practical skills. The inaugural two weeks closed with the first of many concerts on the notorious Big Red Bus, a touring stage and gear container.

Tour Week 1: Bend

In Bend, OR, performances continued gradually, allowing for plenty of additional practice time. The first performance in Bend was a trial gig at a senior community center. If participants did well that day, they could continue to play during lunch on Thursday and Friday. The team did fantastic, with old folks singing, dancing, requesting ACDC, and all. Thursday held returning faces at the senior center, not out of normal routine, but specifically to see Rapport. Friday there were two local news stations on site interviewing participants and highlighting the event.

Bend was the slow start and smashing success that reassured students that they were on the right path, despite the interpersonal challenges and hardship of transitioning from feather pillows to sleep on a gym floor.

Media coverage of shows at the senior community center in Bend, OR
Media coverage of shows at the senior community center in Bend, OR
Show at the Smith Farm in Walla Walla, WA
Show at the Smith Farm in Walla Walla, WA

Tour Week 2: Walla Walla

The following week we moved to Walla Walla, WA. The crack that inevitably forms in team dynamics happened this week, a month into the program. Some students were working themselves to the bone and not prioritizing their own self-care, while others were practicing the bare minimum amount to sort of skate by — this deficit was no longer tolerable and things got heated among the band. Students opted to cancel shows for the next two days so that the band collectively and individual members could get things together. I was so proud of the independent care, compassion, and tenacity that students showcased over the subsequent two days. The pace picked up and venues diversified to include senior centers, breweries, busking on the street, farms, and a food cart festival. 

Tour Week 3: Spokane

On the first night in Spokane, the participants played for a men’s shelter — this was their first interaction with houseless people as a team and prepared them for the week in the Skagit Valley. Staff encouraged immersion with community in every situation. At the senior center in Bend, students sat with elders and shared lunch and the same was expected here as the team ate a pre-show dinner with residents. To sit with people and share stories or bear witness to their experiences was a leading growth edge throughout the program and I believe was instrumental in getting students out of their sheltered shells into the “real world”. While in Spokane, the participants continued to work through a studio session and held a kickin’ country performance at The Harvester Restaurant. 

Participants and staff after a session at Bing Bang Boom Studios in Spokane, WA
Participants and staff after a session at Bing Bang Boom Studios in Spokane, WA
Show set up at the rodeo grounds in Skagit Valley, WA
Show set up at the rodeo grounds in Skagit Valley, WA

Tour Week 4: Skagit Valley

The final week was spent back on the west side of the mountains, in Skagit Valley, WA. Early the first morning, participants were rallied and split into groups to invite houseless people from all stretches of the county to the next day’s event, for which they were providing a day of music to accompany free showers and haircuts. The humanistic themes of the previous week paved the way for this task and the following event.

The remainder of the week was filled with a performance at the rodeo grounds, hiking and music at Rosario beach, a quiet vespers, and service at a small white church on a hill. 

The End in Portland

Their final show mirrored where it all began in Portland, OR. The sound cut out a few times as the power flickered, yet they enthusiastically played on, clearly enjoying the fleeting camaraderie. Each took a turn sharing a piece of their experience throughout the performance and this deeply resonated with the crowd of friends and neighbors. Applause was thunderous as the participants showcased their growth over the last month. 

Participants, who used to primarily play music at church, are now engaging out of their comfort zones with houseless people, the elderly, pub-goers, professional music producers, and the general street-walking public. They are now courageously performing and creating music that speaks to their souls. Everyone is leading their lives with new intention and strong integrity.

Rapport plus Samantha after the final show in Portland, OR

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about this program, I invite you to check out my full project update for Patreon supporters at www.Patreon.com/SamanthaElieBotanist

You can also visit www.MusicAndMissionRoadTrip.com and follow the project on Facebook and Instagram. 

Facebook – www.facebook.com/MissionAndMusicRoadTrip

Instagram – www.instagram.com/MissionAndMusicRoadTrip

Plans for Music and Mission Road Trip in the summer of 2024 are currently brewing. If you, or your late high school or early college-aged student, would potentially like to participate email me expressing interest or posing questions at [email protected]


While the Music and Mission Road Trip encourages personal spiritual depth and exploration, it is not a religious program. All are welcome.

Samantha Elie Botanist