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POP was originally founded in 2011. Photo: playonphilly.org
POP was originally founded in 2011. Photo: playonphilly.org

“Someone is playing on us,” Play On, Philly! reacts to Mackenzie Scott donation

The nonprofit, which got $1 million from the philanthropist, plans to reopen in September for in-person instruction.

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Play On, Philly! (POP) a local nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, recently received a generous donation from Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.

The organization was so stunned to know they were chosen that Founder and Executive Director of Play On, Philly! Stanford Thompson, thought it was a tasteless joke.

“I told everyone, this is a cruel joke that someone is playing on us,” Thompson said in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.

Thompson would soon find out it was not.

“Imagine getting a phone call from Barack Obama, out of all of the millions of people, he decided to call you,” said Thompson. “That was how I felt.”

He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and both of his parents were music teachers. As a child, Thompson was exposed to a variety of music and learned how to play the trumpet.

“My siblings all knew how to play instruments too,” he said.

When Thompson was older, he moved to Philadelphia to pursue an education in music. A career in the nonprofit sector wasn’t a reality until he came back from a trip to Venezuela.

“Venezuela has a really big music initiative over there and when I came back to Philly, I figured I wanted to do something like that,” he said.

The organization in Venezuela is called El Sistema, a publicly-financed music-education program founded in 1975 by the late musician, José António Abreu.

When Thompson came back to Philadelphia, he started POP in 2011, with hopes to provide safe and free access to music education in the city. It has grown exponentially over the years.

“In the beginning, we had about 110, now we have grown to about 350,” he said.

Children from grades K-12 grade are able to join.

The program provides two hours of music instruction, hands-on practice, and over 25 performance opportunities throughout the year.

The services are tuition-free and the instruments are loaned out to children so parents don't have to worry about paying hundreds of dollars for them.

“We have every orchestral instrument available, we have woodwinds, clarinets, flutes, trumpets french horns, and more,” said Thompson.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led many children all over the city to move to a virtual setting, leaving them unable to perform among their peers.

“It has been challenging, but we have been able to teach our kids musical literacy virtually,” said Thompson. “We have helped them become engaged in music.”

POP will be reopening this September, thanks to a donation provided by Scott and other generous donors in the area.

“Our hope is that more youth will get a chance to be vaccinated,” said Thompson. “We know that children under 12 do not have a chance yet, but we are hoping that changes later on in time for Fall.”

With the $1 million donation provided by Scott, Thompson said they will be able to add more instruments to the program and potentially open another space.

“Of course we will save some of the money and put it into our reserve, but for now, we are able to do a lot with the donation money,” he said.

To learn more about Play On, Philly! Visit its website.

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