Now in his third year as a volunteer music teacher at Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education, Tim Woitowitz has seen a lot of changes since the music program first got off the ground.

Over time, it has been built up through donations of equipment from local musicians. It has also had support from the Maine Community Foundation’s Ira Cobe Fund as part of a school-wide health and wellness initiative, which also includes funding for acupuncture, yoga, tae kwon do and equine therapy sessions.

“It’s just been growing and growing every year,” said Woitowitz, who specializes in teaching drums and singing.

The health and wellness program is into its third year, and the MCF came through again this year, with an $8,000 donation from the Ira Cobe Fund to help keep the program afloat.

Mike Nickerson, chairman of the Waldo County division of MCF, said the 20-year-old foundation has worked to benefit many local organizations over the years, and the BCOPE wellness programs are just the kind of initiatives the fund exists to support.

“It’s a great way to turn money back into the community,” Nickerson said.

Director Gary Skigen credited Regional School Unit 20 Health Coordinator Linda Hartkopf for her assistance with the grant-writing process again this year.

“Without her help I couldn’t have gotten the grant together,” said Skigen.

All of the wellness programs have been successful for students at BCOPE, said Skigen, and the music program has built a reputation for being a class that students rarely miss.

“This is one of those things where you see the students who get involved with it stick with it,” said Skigen.

Part of that success, Woitowitz said, has been the willingness of the community to help keep the music playing at BCOPE.

Since the music program’s inception, it has been kept alive by donations of equipment from local musicians like the members of Woitowitz’s own band, Steel Rail Express, as well as Ryan Oakes of the local band Oversoul, who donated about $500 worth of percussion equipment. Ryan’s father, Sid Oakes, of Mark’s Music in Bangor has also been a major supporter of the program, Woitowitz said, as has the Troy Howard Middle School music program, which donated a drum set that Woitowitz rebuilt and repaired for the band’s use.

This year, Woitowitz said, Mark’s Music continued its support of the program, giving Woitowitz special prices on new equipment. The purchase of items such as three guitars, a bass and a guitar amplifier, a karaoke machine and microphones were made possible through another set of contributions to the music program. This year, Woitowitz said, the Unity Foundation awarded the music program a $250 grant, while Unity Foundation CEO Larry Sterrs and his wife, Kim, donated an additional $750.

The volunteer teaching staff has grown, too. Along with Woitowitz’s drumming and voice lessons, Bruce Boege of Northport offers weekly guitar lessons. Boege also operates Limin Music, a recording studio in Northport, where BCOPE music students recorded a CD for the first time last year. Woitowitz plans to take another group of students into the studio this winter, he said.

And when Boege is not available to teach, Woitowitz said, local guitar and fiddle player Dan Danford will step in as a substitute.

Kent Palmer of Dinosaur Audio in Winterport has been another great supporter of the program, Woitowitz said, as Palmer has recently repaired several pieces of equipment.

“He fixes stuff for me, and he charges me pennies,” said Woitowitz of Palmer.

Over the summer, Woitowitz said BCOPE students helped to repair equipment and worked with BCOPE staff to spruce up the music room.

Junior Ariel Grotton brought her art skills to the project, adding portraits of rock greats like the Beatles and Bob Marley to a mural that graces one whole wall of the room. Custodian Laurel Murphy put a fresh coat of paint on the previously dull walls, complementing the student artwork as well as the shiny new music equipment, some of which is now prominently displayed on the wall.

The program includes 18 students this year, all of whom have the freedom to choose whether they prefer to play guitar, drums, sing, or all of the above.

“They can do whatever they want,” said Woitowitz.

Michael Roy Thompson, a senior at BCOPE, is one of Woitowitz’s newest students, having picked up a set of drumsticks for the first time in September. As he rehearsed in the band room, signs of his progress were evident, and Woitowitz made a point of mentioning it.

“It’s amazing,” Woitowitz said. “When you first got here, you didn’t even know how to hold the drumsticks. Now look at you.”

Thompson, whom Woitowitz said will be one of two percussionists taking part in this year’s recording session, said he was immediately interested in taking drum lessons when he heard about the program.

“I’ve been interested in the drums for a while,” he said.

RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said tapping into students’ interests is an important component of keeping kids in school and engaged in what they are learning.

“It’s all about connections; finding those things that students connect with to help keep them interested in school,” Mailloux said.

Skigen said programs like the music lessons also work to boost the self-image of students who participate, and gives them the confidence they need to tackle real life challenges after graduation.

“And music makes people happy,” added Woitowitz, who recalled a day when students all over the school were unwittingly grooving to the BCOPE band’s rendition of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” during a recent rehearsal.

Woitowitz said the program is always seeking donations of musical equipment like basses and guitars, amplifiers and other accessories, as he aims to send instruments home with students so they can practice their skills outside of school. Additionally, Woitowitz is seeking a donation of blown-in insulation, which he said would help to soundproof the band room.

Anyone interested in donating equipment, services or insulation is asked to contact Woitowitz at 567-3813.