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A music program that serves many students on Minneapolis' North Side survived a possible school closure after an outpouring of support from the community.

Hopewell Music, a nonprofit founded nearly eight years ago to offset the decline of music education in schools, was on the verge of closing after a leadership change revealed serious financial problems.

Hopewell officials launched an online fundraising campaign last week after school board members announced the school needed $50,000 to continue operating. In a week, the school surpassed its goal.

"Building community through music is a major part of our mission" said Ellie Fregni, Hopewell's co-founder and program manager. "The great community outpouring has helped keep the doors open, and we're still looking for support."

The school's money problem surfaced between April and May 2019 when it brought on a new board and hired an accountant to help sort through finances to build a comprehensive budget for the first time. But after reviewing the books, Hopewell leaders found serious budget gaps that revealed there wasn't enough money to operate through the end of the school year.

School leaders also discovered some grant funds that should have been dedicated to programs were used for general operations. Fregni said this is the first time the school has struggled to stay afloat, even with poor financial practices that threatened the longevity of programs in the past.

"We really wanted financial transparency and just to operate according to best practices," said Fregni. "And so we've done a lot of restructuring in the past six months, building a clear communication and infrastructure, and building a board that really reflects the community."

About 150 students — a majority of them from low-income households — and 16 staffers would have been affected if the school had shut down. But Fregni said the community as a whole would have suffered from the loss of Hopewell, which is the only full-service music school in north Minneapolis that serves students of all ages. It provides free and low-cost "high quality" lessons and puts on 20 concerts and events in the neighborhood every year. Programs offered at the school include private lessons, ensembles, orchestra, a youth choir, a ukulele group and an all-ages choir.

Funds raised through the campaign will be used to maintain the music programs through the school year, school leaders announced on their website. Meanwhile, they say they are planning to develop a sustainable business model.

"Even hitting this goal, we're still operating just kind of a bare bones program," Fregni said.

Franco Holder, a four-year piano teacher at Hopewell who teaches after-school lessons to kids in elementary through high school, said he heard last week about the possible closure. Holder said he was worried about his North Side students, most of whom don't have music programs at their schools, and the challenge of raising thousands of dollars in a week to keep the school open. Hopewell functions like a community center, he said, allowing people and kids to gather even when they don't take lessons at the school.

"I was shocked when I saw that we were close to reaching our fundraising goals," Holder said. "I feel like that's a testament to what Hopewell has done in the community, and people understand how valuable and vital it is to the community."

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203