03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Phoenix House Helps Troubled Teens Rise From The Ashes With Music

I was raised outside of New York City, and since I was very young I've known about Phoenix House -- which since the '60's has been helping those suffering from substance abuse and the problems that cause it -- and its power to change lives.

I went through some tough emotional times growing up and into my late 20's, and writing songs was what helped me work through a lot of my personal issues. When I came to LA to pursue a career in music, I thought about how I could give back and help young people who, like me, might benefit from the power of creative expression. I believe music can build self-esteem and deal with problems relating to anxiety and depression -- which often underlie substance abuse. It was natural for Phoenix House to be where I turned when I was looking to help others, because they, more than anyone, have had an extraordinary history helping troubled teenagers turn their lives around.

I first got involved with Phoenix Academy of Los Angeles five years ago. I visited the program, met the kids, and was struck by their intelligence, emotional maturity, and ability to articulate their issues while trying to overcome incredibly profound personal and behavioral challenges. Working with the staff at Phoenix House, and with the help of my friends at West LA Music and others in the music industry, I raised the funds to build a full recording studio for the more than 100 kids who are in treatment there while attending high school.

Through the time I spent with these kids listening to their stories over the years and hearing the songs that they've created in our music studio, I never fail to be blown away by the depth of their emotions, the poignancy of their insights and their appreciation for the opportunity that personal expression offers them. As one young girl, Lucy, said to me, "Writing songs and rapping has helped me deal with my anger in a different way...I had a hard time saying how I really felt without yelling. Being in the music studio is a way for me to say what I need to say without anyone judging me."

Since the music program has come to play such a pivotal role in the therapeutic process at Phoenix Academy of Los Angeles, I felt that the concept was worth replicating at other Phoenix Academies around the country. We've now set up a similar music studio at Phoenix Academy in Yorktown, NY, and another is underway at Phoenix Academy in Austin, TX. All of these programs, like the one in Los Angeles, help kids in trouble to face their demons and turn their lives around in profound and sustaining ways.

As I've seen how music has changed my life and that of others, I'm energized and want to do more. I'm now working to create a compilation CD of these young musicians' music and partner them with some of the top producers in the music industry today. I'll keep you posted as we make progress.

Help me help the kids at Phoenix House, who so deserve a second chance. Please donate to Phoenix House to help empower other teens like Jonathan, who confesses, "I came out of my shell in [the studio]. I went from being a quiet kid to a young man with the confidence that
I could make it outside of [treatment]."

Kara DioGuardi supports the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s iParticipate campaign, which encourages Americans to volunteer in their communities.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.