CSUN Music Therapy Graduate Rekindles Hope for Grieving Children at the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation
Cameron Mooney ’13 (Music Therapy) has been a busy man since graduating from California State University, Northridge. From Malibu to South Los Angeles, Mooney works in three to four different cities in the LA area on a typical workday, serving populations from young children to adults in rehabilitation, with five different programs and nonprofit initiatives.
Mooney’s latest passion involves his work at the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation — in addition to his involvement in CSUN’s music therapy clinic twice a week and serving as program director for the nonprofit organization AMP Los Angeles, an after-school mentor program he helped to found with a friend.
The Dee Dee Jackson Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by the Jackson brothers Tariano (“Taj”), Taryll and Tito (“TJ”) as a tribute to the charity work of their mother, who passed away in 1994. The foundation supports individuals who suffer from grief and loss by connecting them with music.
Mooney has been working with the foundation since April, developing new approaches to help children and young adolescents process grief and loss. The goal is to create a program that can be replicated and handed on to fellow music therapists in different settings.
“Grief and loss are very personal, so the challenge is trying to figure out what the right balance and the right pace is to help these kids work through their grief,” Mooney said. “You have to make sure to establish appropriate relationships with them and to not assume anything about them.”
The foundation supports the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles, helping children and teenagers express themselves and process grief and loss through songwriting and connecting to music.
“Music is powerful and personal, and people connect to it really well. We help them to make this connection more powerful and to use it for something that they typically wouldn’t,” Mooney said. “We’re already seeing amazing reactions to the music. You can see that [the children and teenagers] already make connections between their situation and the stories that we’re listening to in other music.”
Henri Hebert, interim executive director of the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation praised Mooney for his dedication to help children and his ambition as music therapist.
“Cameron brings incredible enthusiasm, compassion and experience, [and] goes above and beyond in preparing to make each session a success,” Herbert added. “The results of his efforts and work with the children participating in the program can be seen by their engagement. The children are focused and happily participating in every activity.”
Mooney has been working with children with special needs — particularly those on the autism spectrum — since he was 18 years old. Even though he wanted to continue, his passion for music led him to pursue a major in media composition when he came to CSUN.
“I didn’t know there was a way to bring those two things together, but then I heard about music therapy and that CSUN had a program for it,” he said. “I reached out and met with professor [and Department of Music Therapy Chair Ronald] Borzcon, and after that one meeting with him I was convinced that this was what I should do. The next day, I switched my major.”
The demanding curriculum of the music therapy major requires students to be proficient in playing guitar, piano and singing, while being comfortable with other instruments as well. As a passionate musician, Mooney handled all the requirements and still enjoys discovering new instruments and practices.
“I still take my time to learn and explore new instruments so that I can try new things in sessions,” Mooney said.
During his two years in CSUN’s music therapy program, Mooney worked in four different music therapy settings as required in the major’s curriculum. He said the hands-on experience connected him with professional music therapists and exposed him to real-world work situations.
“CSUN is unique and prepares you very well out in the field,” he said. “On top of that, the professors are really great and the teaching standard is really high.”
Borczon also made a significant impact on his life, Mooney said.
“He expects his students to understand what they’re doing,” he said. “He was really good at explaining good and poor techniques [as well as] good reinforcement. If I hadn’t worked with him, I wouldn’t have gotten into a lot of the work I do now in the rehab setting and at the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation.”
Borczon, who still works with Mooney at CSUN’s music therapy clinic, recalled how the ambitious music therapy student made an immediate impression.
“He worked with me at a couple of rehab centers in Malibu,” Borczon said. “The creative music experience that we brought to the clients were genuinely from him. He did not copy them — and that really impressed me. He took his own ideas and made them into a music intervention for people with drug and alcohol problems.”
Borczon praised Mooney’s creativity and inquisitiveness as student, and his leadership skills in professional settings.
“His creativeness is really what stands out for me about him,” Borczon said. “He is a role model in his leadership ability and [in the ways] he takes charge and really sets things in motion.”
There is much more work to be done, Mooney said.
“I want to continue to expose myself to as many new challenges as possible,” Mooney said, adding that his work can be challenging but rewarding when he sees the positive impact he has made on his clients — especially children.
After rekindling hope for numerous grieving children, Mooney’s own life was recently energized with the birth of his daughter in early 2016. Despite his busy schedule as a music therapist, he said he can’t wait to teach her to play the piano and ukulele.