BRONX, N.Y., July 20, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- CITGO has proudly welcomed home a delegation of 40 orchestra students who it sponsored to participate in musical activities celebrating the 40th anniversary of El Sistema, Venezuela's national system of youth orchestras and choirs. 

The student delegation representing UpBeat NYC, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical training for underserved children in the South Bronx, is one of more than 130 organizations around the world whose musical education programs are inspired by El Sistema. The Bronx-based group joined other young musicians from the San Agustin youth orchestra and choir in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 1.  Together, the groups participated in rehearsal workshops for three days, culminating in a concert directed by world-renowned orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel, celebrating the 40th anniversary of El Sistema in Venezuela. The binational collaboration was held as part of festivities observing the United States' and Venezuela's Independence Day, on July 4 and 5, respectively.   The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was made possible by an invitation from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, after he visited the Bronx community in 2014.

"We are humbled by the generosity, openness and warmth we were met with in Caracas. Our students learned so much from the Venezuelan kids they played with. They caught the intensity of their enthusiasm, focus, expressiveness and their willingness to help and teach our kids at every moment," said Liza Austria, co-founding director of UpBeat NYC.

Adonis Gutierrez, 11, an UpBeat NYC cello student said "It was a magical experience. I've never felt anything like it.  Meeting Gustavo Dudamel and getting to know the other kids who like music, too, was great. I learned about the culture of Venezuelans, and one of my favorite parts of the trip was exchanging gifts with the kids I met."

UpBeat NYC was founded in 2009 by Jaime Austria, a jazz bassist, in the Bronx, New York – which is known as the poorest congressional district in the United States – and has reached 130 children and youth, ages five through 21.  Its music education programs were inspired by El Sistema's mission to systematize the instruction of individual and collective practice of music through symphony orchestras and choirs, as instruments of social organization and humanistic development.   The organization provides free year-round music training and instruments and its programs are designed to provide participants with high-quality musical training spanning their early childhood and teenage years.  

"Our teachers have come back energized and inspired by all they saw. Richard [Miller] and I have dedicated our lives to building this project here in the South Bronx and we are grateful to CITGO for recognizing the heart and spirit of UpBeat NYC, as young and as small as we may be," Liza Austria added.

Over the past two years, UpBeat NYC has received support from CITGO, through the company's Bronx Social & Environmental Programs, for a number of projects, including the Nucleo Mott Haven project, which aims to develop social and musical skills of youth through free pre-orchestra classes, private lessons, sectionals, ensemble playing, peer mentoring and public performance.  These social programs supported by CITGO are designed to improve the quality of life of residents in the Bronx, as part of the company's ongoing commitment to supporting underprivileged communities.    

"For CITGO it is a privilege to use the strength of our resources to make a positive long-lasting impact in the lives of those who are most in need," said Nelson P. Martinez, president and CEO of CITGO Petroleum Corporation. "I am convinced we have forever changed the lives of the kids from UpBeat NYC and know they will be a catalyst for positive social change in the lives of their families and their community."

CITGO, based in Houston, is a refiner, transporter and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products. The company is owned by CITGO Holding, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. For more information, visit