CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Raising money to get school musical instruments repaired in Webster County won’t have to be on Lewis Woodard’s to-do list much longer.
Seven years after the VH1 Save the Music Foundation started providing shiny new instruments to West Virginia students, the nonprofit group is set to complete its goal of equipping public schools in all 55 counties.
So far through various donations, it has given $1.8 million in instruments to 59 schools in 48 counties.
On the 2016 list are schools in Braxton, Hancock, Lewis, Mineral, Taylor, Tyler and Webster counties.
“Every little bit helps. That’s for sure,” said Woodard, Webster County High’s director of bands. “Considering the financial situation in our county, it will afford some of our students an opportunity that they would not otherwise have.”
Woodard said he’s already talked to the foundation and by March is expected to start the process of getting new instruments by next fall.
He said they would benefit his middle school band, which currently numbers a dozen students but could easily grow in size with the availability of more instruments. Webster County High includes grades seven through 12.
“For some kids, it would be the difference between them being in band or not being in band,” Woodard said.
It’s a bit of good news in a county that could use some.
Webster County’s unemployment rate of 6.9 percent in November was above the state average. The county’s population base declined 3.5 percent from 2010 to about 8,800 in 2014, and many coal mines that have fueled the area’s economy have shut down.
Families have left to find work elsewhere, taking Woodard’s students with them but often leaving behind instruments that have worn down over the years.
“Most of the instruments that we have, if the kids don’t own them themselves, they’re older,” he said. “We’ve done quite a bit of fundraising not only to pay for uniforms, but to get instruments repaired.”
The New York-based Save The Music Foundation was established in 1997 and has provided more than $52 million in new instruments to 1,964 public schools nationwide. The program is dedicated to restoring music programs in America’s public schools, and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education.
West Virginia became the first entire state embraced by the foundation. The goal was to bring instruments to at least one public elementary or middle school in every county.
Schools are invited to participate, and those that accept must fill out an application.
The foundation plans to announce the winning schools in May, and instruments would be delivered before the start of the school year in August, said foundation compliance manager Chiho Feindler.
Typically, each school gets about $30,000 in new instruments apiece, including flutes, clarinets, alto saves, trumpets, a snare drum, a set of bells and cymbals.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston are two of the foundation’s top sponsors in the state.
“We hope that the opportunities this program provides will instill in our students a long-lasting passion for music as well as the other arts,” said Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.