Music can heal. That’s the thought behind The Angel Band Project whose mission is “using the power of music to provide healing, raise awareness, and create positive social change for survivors of sexual violence.” Co-founder and Executive Director Rachel Ebeling is a lifelong lover of music and has been breathing fire into the organization since its inception back in 2009. Rachel is responsible for day-to-day operations of the organization with a focus on growing The Angel Band Project into a meaningful force for healing and social change. Rachel draws on her background in project management, marketing and the media in her role as executive director. Through hard work and vision, Rachel has led the organization to house programming in three cities – St. Louis, Seattle, and New York City. Rachel received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1992, and was given an award for her music therapy advocacy in 2018 by the Women of Achievement organization in St. Louis. She has spoken at sexual assault conferences and universities across the country. She and her family live in St. Louis.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
On July 19, 2009, one of my best friends, Teresa Butz, was tragically raped and murdered in her home in Seattle. Her partner, Jennifer Hopper, was also victimized. It was truly horrific. I had to find a way to overcome this dark and grief-stricken event, and did so by partnering with another friend, Jean Purcell, to produce a benefit album that would raise funds for programs that support survivors of sexual violence. That project led to the formation of The Angel Band Project, a national nonprofit whose mission is to use the power of music to provide healing, raise awareness, and promote positive social change for survivors of sexual violence.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I have to say that I believe this career path chose ME; what began as a passionate response to a tragedy evolved into my life’s work. However, I knew that my background in journalism and marketing would give me the skills necessary to be an activist in the fight to end sexual violence. And my love of people helped as well.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
Prior to my work with The Angel Band Project, I had no nonprofit administrative experience. I began educating myself about the nonprofit sector, and took courses about leadership, grant writing, development plans, and strategic planning in order to be able to adequately lead the organization.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Most people were very encouraging to me as I launched into this work. However, some people close to me were worried that such intense work might do me more emotional harm than good. So I made a point to practice good self-care routines, in order to decompress when needed.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I never doubted that I was meant to do this work. I am the mother of three daughters, and when I learned that one in five women are the victims of sexual assault in the United States, I felt compelled to do my best to not only support survivors of such trauma, but also serve as a mentor for my own daughters so that they, too, have a voice and empathy for victims.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I would say my career reached a tipping point when Jean Purcell and I were invited to give a keynote address at the End Violence Against Women International Conference a few years ago. To know that others in this movement wanted to hear our story, and learn about work, was humbling and also motivated me to grow The Angel Band Project into the organization it has become.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
A challenge I had to overcome was starting a nonprofit organization from scratch. I had to rely on good people and trusted sources to get this off the ground – not to mention earning the trust of those who would financially support our organization. It truly “takes a village” to get a nonprofit off the ground, and then make sure it has a viable plan for execution and growth.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
A skill that has been useful to me is my background in journalism and communication. I am comfortable in front of people, whether it be a face-to-face meeting with a major donor or in front of a crowd of 1,200. It is absolutely essential to be able to tell your story with confidence and clarity, and my education certainly helped provide me with that ability.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that The Angel Band Project has created and developed a ground-breaking music therapy program for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. We hire board-certified music therapists to lead workshops that help survivors who are in counseling for the trauma associated with these issues. Music therapy helps give survivors their voices back, by supporting them through techniques such as songwriting, lyric analysis, drumming, spontaneous music making – all in a small group setting. We work with agencies in St. Louis, Seattle, and New York City.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
If you see a need in your community, and you have the resilience to work hard and put yourself out there on behalf of others, then a career in the nonprofit sector can reap rewards unlike any other career choice. It’s soul-stretching work that matters, even though it can be full of challenges, twists, turns, and bumps. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.