SCC student, faculty member and local musician make an impact through music

Music has a way of expressing how we feel in a way words alone simply cannot.

And, when cranked up loud for all to hear, it has the power to amplify – both literally and figuratively. A single lyric or melody can catch fire, spreading until its reverberations are felt throughout an entire community.

This is the idea behind United Way’s recent fundraising campaign – Amplify the Quad Cities: The Soundtrack. United Way Quad Cities is an organization dedicated to improving the education, health and income of all Quad Citizens. To meet their 2020 goal, leadership presented a new, innovative approach for their yearly campaign – storytelling through music.

Six people, each impacted by United Way in different ways, shared their story for one purpose: to make the Quad Cities even stronger.

Rhiannon Bell was one of the six whose story was transformed into a song, co-written by Scott Community College (SCC) English Instructor Amy Foley and local musician Mo Carter no less. Titled “Grow,” the lyrics describe how Bell went from battling a drug addiction that left her running from the law, to SCC student conquering her classes.

“Drug addiction is like being on a merry-go-round that’s going really fast that you can’t get off unless you jump. It’s a huge step to jump off and try to change,” Bell said.

But as the lyrics in the song point out…she did.

Through the labyrinth

By 2018, Bell had hit rock bottom. Her addiction had taken over her life, leading from one bad situation to another. “I did a lot of things I wasn’t proud of, I didn’t like to be living like that because it was scary,” she said.

She knew something had to give. So, she bravely turned herself into her probation officer fully expecting to go to prison. To her relief, the courts had something else in mind. Instead of handing down a punishment, she was given a second chance.

“I was offered drug court, which is a highly intense probation program and with that I was housed at One-Eighty.”

Toward the garden

From that moment, Bell’s life began to change for the better. One-Eighty, located in downtown Davenport, provided Bell a safe place to live, emotional support, job training, and most importantly, faith.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was a faith-based program and I was just coming into my spirituality, so I was very open to what they had to offer. I expected good things because it is such a long program and the people there are just really awesome. It opened my mind and my eyes to a lot of things.”

Among those things, Bell discovered the power of education. Carter and Foley captured the emotion of this discovery in one single lyric.

“The part where she says ‘it wasn’t school where I hit the books, but when I did the ground beneath me shook,’ that’s so true.”

“School was not my thing; I dropped out and didn’t understand anything. Now that I have started college I have so much more confidence in myself and my future. I can do this.”

Making things grow

Today, Bell is blooming. She completed the program, is taking business classes and even manages a caramel and candle company through One-Eighty called Inspired Sweets. Life is not easy, and every day she must work to cultivate this new beginning, but she’s doing it.

Thanks to her partnership with United Way, and Foley and Carter’s talent, she’s even planting seeds of hope that will grow far beyond her own backyard. This opportunity to positively impact the community has been a moving experience for all three women.

“Your story is traveling outward to other people who can feel and identify with your story,” Foley said to Bell during our interview. “That’s why stories are so powerful. When we share them we can connect and feel inspired and moved by them. We can feel like there’s hope.”

“I remember one thing you said is that you needed to go through what you did to make a change. That’s where the lyric ‘I went through the labyrinth to reach the garden,’ kind of came from,” Carter said. “We wanted to touch on your past, but the song needed to be an inspiration beyond.”

“It made me very emotional,” Bell told Carter and Foley. “You can tell someone your story and they can hear it, but when you hear it in music, you can feel it.”

“I hope somebody who hears the song sees an opportunity for themselves or someone they may know who needs help.”