FORT JACKSON, S.C. (June 19, 2014) -- Music started off as an escape for Brian Manigo. When he was in the 10th grade, Manigo said he found himself with an empty block on his class schedule. He was being bullied during that break, so he started looking for someplace else to be at that time of day.

"I was getting picked on a lot," he said. "The first thing that came up was choir, so I started choir. From there it became a lifelong passion for singing. I got a scholarship for singing from Benedict College and, after I graduated, I moved into doing my own music."

Today, Manigo is the music program director for the Fort Jackson Youth Center, where he works to nurture a love of music in military children.

"We teach the kids the foundations of music, starting from their love of music," he said. "Whether it's rapping, singing or poetry, it doesn't matter."

The group meets after school at the youth center on Tuesdays and Fridays. In addition to a programmable keyboard and drum machine, a full recording studio is available to the participants. The students recorded their first album in the spring of 2012.

"After that we did two Christmas albums and two cover albums," Manigo said. "When (the albums are) done, we give the songs to the kids and post some of them on Soundcloud. That way, if they go to other installations, they can still hear their music."

Last week, Summer Peters, 12, was the first of the day's participants to arrive at the studio. An R&B fan, Peters said this is her first year to participate in the group.

"I did a Christmas song and a song that (Manigo) wrote for me," she said. "It's not boring. It's fun coming here. You can sing and make music."

Manigo said the program began in 2011 and now averages about 12 children per session, ages 12-18. Because many children cannot attend every session, the group actually has about 30 students involved throughout the school year.

With the start of summer, though, those numbers have dropped off significantly.

"A lot of the time, (the summer brings) a new batch of kids," he said. Many of the students who live off post visit the youth center less frequently in between school years, he said.

"We do a little seminar to find out who sings and what kind of interests they have," Manigo said. "Then I start working with them one-on-one with songwriting, producing and making their own music."

He said he has seen genuine talent walk through the doors of the youth center.

"I've had two students who actually got scholarships, students who weren't singing at all before coming here in 2011," he said. "One has a scholarship to Winthrop, and the other is going to the University of South Carolina on a partial scholarship."