Why does Modesto studio think podcasts help with social injustices and solutions?

Nurses working with people who are homeless. Members of the LGBTQ+ community. Counselors who help abused and neglected children.

These are among the community members whose voices and stories will be recorded in a series of podcasts by Modesto Sound, a nonprofit music studio tucked behind a fast-food restaurant on Yosemite Boulevard near the Gospel Mission.

Modesto Sound recently was awarded $255,000 for the podcast project from the Kern Dance Alliance’s KDA Creative Corps grant program. The studio was among 14 organizations and six individuals in the San Joaquin Valley and foothills to receive a total of $3.38 million in the alliance’s first Creative Corps’ grants.

The funding comes from the state’s California Creative Corps, and the alliance is one of 14 organizations across California picked by the state to issue the grants in their regions.

The goal of Modesto Sound’s California Audio Roots Project includes improving the lives of people who live in the bottom fourth of the California Healthy Places Index, according to a Modesto Sound news release. The index rates neighborhoods on such factors as community health, economics, education, housing and access to health care, as well as air and water quality.

Modesto Sound Executive Director Janet Seay said that means telling the stories of the people who live in much of the 95354 ZIP code, which includes the airport neighborhood, parts of downtown and Yosemite Boulevard.

“The focus is on social justice and community engagement,” Seay said in an interview. “Our goal is to make this little slice of our Modesto heaven better.”

She said that includes the podcasters talking about the social injustices they witness, as well as about solutions.

Interested in doing a podcast? Here’s where to start

Seay said she has lined up 20 people for the podcasts and wants to have as many as 80. Those interested can contact her via the Modesto Sound website by clicking on on the contact link. She said each podcaster will receive $150.

A Modesto father with a 27-year-old son will be one of the podcasters. The father, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Phil, said his son has been homeless for nearly a decade.

Phil said it’s been incredibly frustrating watching and trying to help his son access services. “We often feel they are homeless but we’re helpless,” Phil said about himself and other parents of homeless children. “We often feel helpless. At the end of the day, we’re often left feeling desperate.”

Phil said he hears only his son’s version of his efforts to access help and knows his son does not always give the whole story. Phil does not want to fault the service providers, he said, but he’s heard similar frustrations from other parents who say their loved ones are not getting help.

“There are definitely shortcomings in the system,” Phil said. “But it’s such a complicated issue and problem,” adding that some homeless people are not effective advocates for themselves. Phil said he hopes the podcast spurs more conversations about homelessness and how to help those who are homeless.

Seay said the podcasts will be broadcast on the community radio stations operated by Valleymedia.org and the Modesto Peace/Life Center. The radio stations are 104.9 and 93.3 for Valley Media and 95.5 FM for the center. The podcasts also will be available on the Modesto Sound website, SoundCloud and Spotify.

Recording the podcasts will start in early July and conclude in May 2024.

Camp Taylor, which operates summer camps for children with heart disease in Grayson, was the only other Stanislaus County-based organization to receive funding. The Kern Dance Alliance awarded it $95,081 for regional artists to help the children and their families understand the healing power of art, according to an alliance news release.

Studio started in 2005

Brenda Francis started Modesto Sound in 2005, according to Seay, who has been executive director since 2015.

“It felt good to see that our work is appreciated and can continue,” Francis said in the news release. “We know many of the podcasts we have recorded in the past have helped preserve meaningful musical and life stories that may not have been recorded and shared otherwise.”

Seay said that has included podcasts of some of Modesto’s musicians from the 1950s and ’60s. Modesto Sound also has recorded podcasts featuring average people taking about their versions of the California dream.

She said Modesto Sound started as a venue for children to learn how to record their own music and it continues to teach audio technology to young adults.

Modesto Sound holds a weeklong camp each July in the Gallo Center for the Arts’ Foster Family Theater where young people learn to write, record and perform their owns songs. Seay said the young people will perform their work at noon July 22 in a free community concert at the theater.

Seay said Modesto Sound’s annual budget is just under $50,000, so the recent grant is a boon for the nonprofit.