How a YMCA music class has become a 'life changing' opportunity for inner-city teens

"Once I got to this program, my whole world just opened up," a student said.

Corey Cook, a beloved music teacher leading the charge at the local "Y" told "Good Morning America" that teaching the "next generation of music" means so much to him because of all the lessons he has learned from music, and "the opportunities that I've been afforded ... through music."

"I wanted to make sure ... that I can pass that onto the next generation," he added. "So anything that I can do to make that happen -- I'll do."

Cook's music program, passion and teaching style brings joy and direction to inner-city teens who turn to the "Y" as a safe haven, and a place for opportunity.

"One thing I've found that these kids just need access," Cook said.

"If you can give 'em access to industry-standard software, hardware ... if you can help guide them along the way," he added. "Sky's the limit."

Corey's program made all the difference for students like Elijah Lyons, 18.

"He’s kind of like the big brother I never had," Lyons told "GMA" of Cook.

"When I was younger, and I got transferred into a different school," he said. "I wasn't accepted like I was accepted here. And it's-- it's changed my life forever."

Chase Hughes, 17, also a student in the program, said he felt "free to learn" in Cook's classes.

"I first started this program doing drums, like playing the drums," Hughes told "GMA." "And then I slowly started to get into music production and Corey just taught me the fundamentals."

"He just said, 'All right, you know what? Here's my laptop. I'm gonna teach you how to record,'" Hughes added. "What to use, how to do it. And then from there, it was just like, all right, you're free to learn. And I feel like that's what I learned was ... the openness to creativity."

Many of Cook's students are participants in the David Matthew's Composition School, which was funded by an endowment from "GMA" sponsor the YMCA, with the mission of sharing the gift of music.

Cook described the school as a way to "bridge the gap" between self-taught and classically trained musicians.

"You have people -- that grow up in orchestras, they're classically trained," he said. "And then you have guys like myself who ... kind of, we learn to play by ear."

"Those two worlds never really come together too much," he added. "And this program is unique because we were able to kinda bridge that gap."

Lyons said before he entered the program, "I don't think I had ever heard of the word, 'viola.'"

But for Lyons, it means more than just learning about classical music.

"I never had a proper teacher to teach me discipline on performing music, or how to sight read music, or just music theory," Lyons said. "I was teaching everything to myself."

"Once I got to this program, my whole world just opened up," he added.

The teens even worked to compose a score that was later performed by the Erie Philharmonic, and seeing his work culminate in that way was "life changing" to Lyons.

"Watching the Philharmonic perform the music that me and some other students ... created, it was life changing," he said. "It was a moment for me that kind of spoke to me. It's, like, something was telling me, 'You can do this for the rest of your life.'"

Cook's music classes is just one of the many YMCA programs that are making an impact in the Erie community, and in the 2,700 YMCA locations across the country dedicated to educating youth beyond the classroom.

Tammy Roche, one of the staff members at the YMCA of Greater Erie, said they rely on support from the community to fund programs like the music classes.

"It's very important that nonprofits like the Y have the -- support of our community through donations," Roche said. "Programs like this ... is run free of charge for the youth here."

When you make a gift to a local "Y," Roche added, "know that your dollars are really ... helping to ... fulfill kids, and help them to be all that they're meant to be."

Lyons said it helped him "know exactly where I want to go."

Hughes said he thanked the local "Y" for "seeing a vision where I didn't see the vision."

"Teaching that to me at such a young age, you didn’t have to do it and you did," he added. "So thank you."