“Lost Voices” Creates Survivors’ Songs

Featured on “CNN Heroes,” Michigander Mike Ball has worked tirelessly to help thousands of traumatized youth through his nonprofit “Lost Voices” for 17 years. 

Ball, the executive director, and his team continue to give creative, singing voices to youth survivors — healing the traumas of abuse, neglect, violence, addiction and human trafficking.

“Two of the facilities we work with have specialized units for trafficking survivors—I hate the word ‘victims’ — and those are the places where we are arguably the most successful,” Ball said. “Those girls are generally angry, sad, happy, vulnerable, strong, hopeful, hopeless; in other words, they are incredibly complex. Our process is almost custom-made for that situation because we are not only willing to accept them for exactly who they are, but we also add just a dollop of ‘rock star’ to their lives.”

The title of the program “Lost Voices” grew out of the hope and need to give these artists a creative and healing space.

“When I first began working with these kids, I was astounded at how wonderfully talented they are and how much they have slipped through the cracks in society,” Ball said. “Most people don’t want to hear about the things these children have endured or think about what their lives must be like. Their voices have been lost in a world that is too busy to care about a few troubled kids.”

Ball said all the youth need to be healed, feel safe and express themselves.

“We work with kids, primarily teens, who have suffered trauma,” Ball said. “Nearly all the kids are in what’s called ‘Residential Placement,’ facilities where staff with specialized training can keep them safe and help them heal.”

Ball explained that “Youth in Residential Placement” (at the care facilities) is too troubled to survive at home or in the general foster care system. They have often been removed from their homes because those homes are the source of their trauma. 

“Others might be ‘runaways’ who have been groomed, often via social media, to accept life on the street is normal,” Ball said. “Every story is different, and by design, we only hear the parts they want to tell us.”

First, the musicians introduce themselves, then they go to work with the kids on a collaborative group song. After that, they work on individual songs with the youth. They end the week-long work with a concert to showcase to the entire facility. 

“Our work falls under the heading of trauma-informed expressive interventions,” Ball described. “Our teams are not therapists, we’re professional singer-songwriters. Our interventions are designed to supplement the work of the professional therapists by offering the kids a safe, non-judgmental opportunity to express their deepest feelings in music.”

The musicians who work on the Lost Voice teams go through an extensive training program in the principles of Trauma Informed Care (TIC). 

“I developed this program in collaboration with the CASCAID Research Group at the University of Michigan School of Nursing (in Ann Arbor), who are specialists in designing and implementing TIC programs,” Ball added.

CASCAID stands for “Complex ACEs, Complex Aid” research group and is made up of key University of Michigan School of Nursing faculty and students. Their goal is to address adverse trauma consequences such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). They create and study complex interventions and aid to help them. 

Sometimes the youth experience a strong sense of trust with the Lost Voices team and open up about specific details about the abuse.

“I worked with a young girl who was sexually abused by her father from a very young age, then trafficked by him as she grew older,” Ball said. “She not only has to deal with the memories of years of abuse, but she also has to deal with the conflicted feelings of finally speaking up and putting both of her parents in prison. This kind of situation is sadly something we’ve seen many times.”

The emphasis of the entire program however is the healing and and the music.

“Music is a common denominator in the human experience,” Ball said. Every human culture has a musical tradition that sits at the core of their society. It’s a basic human need to express feelings in rhythm and melody. Pain is easier to process when you sing about it.”

The kind of music they create must be original and in almost any type of genre.

“They write all kinds of songs,” Ball said. “Sometimes they are straight-out songs, with complex melodies, rhyme schemes, and accompanied by our guitars, fiddles, banjos, or whatever they want. Sometimes they are spoken word pieces with a music bed behind them, other times simply spoken. Sometimes they rap.”

And the subject matter varies a great deal as well.

“The specific subjects can also be pretty much anything,” Ball said. “We let them go anywhere they want to go. One recent song was about wanting to get out of residential so they could wear sweatpants and eat walking tacos. Some are fairly graphic recounting of their experiences. Some are messages directed to their lost parents, lost siblings or to their abusers. We know that a song about going out and getting some good Chinese food can be intertwined with some deep emotions.” 

Ball said the work that “Lost Voices” does is challenging, but not as challenging as the difficulties many of these youth have to live with every day.

“It is really difficult to hear some of the things they share with us and sing about, and our training program for our teams has a major component dealing with self-care for the facilitators,” Ball said. “However, we can go home and meditate or have a beer, while the kids are still there, working to sort out all the dark twists and turns their lives have taken. Why wouldn’t we be willing to help them?”

Ball wanted to stress that anyone can help these kids. The nonprofit relies in part upon donations from the public.

“These kids are out there, and they need our help,” Ball said. “Your readers can make that happen by going to lostvoices.org to learn more about us. And if they can donate any amount that is comfortable for them, it will help us ‘flip the switch’ for more kids.”