Thompson Inspiration Program Logo

Established by Peter and Melinda Gerard in 2017, the Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund was founded to support the Pell Inspiration Program (PIP), an initiative designed to introduce Pell Elementary School students to inspired musicians through an artist-in-residence program. This year, the Gerards are expanding the trust to include the Thompson Inspiration Program (TIP), which brings the PIP tradition to the students of Thompson Middle School.

The Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund was formed under the Newport Public Education Foundation (NPEF), which empowers teachers, administrators and community partners to provide enriching educational experiences for the students of Newport’s public schools.

The Gerard’s will host Crocodile River Music at Thompson Middle School on March 9 and 10. Crocodile River Music’s mission is to spread awareness and inspire new ways of cultural thinking through song, dance and visual art. This dynamic ensemble of talented and personable individuals demonstrates the impact of African culture on the world through lively and joyous concerts and workshops, as well as lecturers and other authentic programming.  At the same time, the group provides opportunities for many emerging and established African Artists.

Crocodile River Music is composed of a diverse group of people who have traveled the world sharing the cultures of Africa. Through the group’s Cultural Ambassador Training Program, youth in African refugee and immigrant communities who are interested in pursuing careers in education and the arts are offered leadership training.

“There is no greater power than the power of inspiration,” Peter Gerard said. “It enables the possible.” In expanding the program to Thompson, the goal is to allow the students and artists to interact and share what this power can do and mean.

Using music as the medium, a typical engagement is a multi-day program where the artists are in and around the school with their music in different settings, almost like street musicians in the great cities. Freed from the constraints of the typical stage-audience relationship, the aim for this initiative is to offer a personal and rewarding experience for the students. Thompson students and staff will find musicians throughout the school, from the hallways to the library to the cafeteria.

The residency will include a family engagement event on Thursday, March 10, with dinner seatings at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. These events provide an opportunity for students and their families to share this experience while enjoying a dinner catered by Becky’s BBQ, hosted by the Thompson PTO. The event is free to the Thompson community, encompassing the Gerard’s dream to promote music appreciation to all. Student artwork will also be on display. 

TIP is not a program about learning musical instruments. It is about Thompson students being inspired and creating an impact that lasts a lifetime. In late May, Pell Elementary School will also celebrate the continued dedication and success of the Gerard’s philanthropic efforts by hosting Crocodile River Music.

In addition to the Gerard’s, trustees for the Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund include Dennis and Roseanne Williams and Colleen Burns Jermain, Ed.D., Superintendent of the Newport Public Schools.

The Gerard’s live in Dallas and have had a home in Newport for over 20 years. Loti Falk Gaffney was Mr. Gerard’s mother and a lifelong supporter of the arts and the musical arts in particular. She was instrumental in the founding of the Pittsburgh Ballet and a longtime board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony. She was also a strong believer in the importance of public schools and the importance of the arts for students.


Crocodile River Music, 2022 TIP Artist-in-Residence group.