August 18, 2012 in Washington Voices

Sharing their love of music

Teens’ nonprofit aims to help more students afford band
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

Katy Dolan and Philip Howard, juniors at Central Valley High School, talk about Life Enhancement Through Education in Music, an organization that collects used musical instruments, fixes them and distributes them to low-income students in the area.
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For information about Life Enhancement Through Education in Music, visit, or email

For students playing in the school band, it can be more than just another class.

“It’s changed our lives in a lot of ways,” said Katy Dolan, 16, a junior at Central Valley High School.

For Dolan and her friend, Philip Howard, 16, band is so important they wanted to make sure other students get the opportunity to participate, even if they cannot afford their own instruments.

The two have started Life Enhancement Through Education in Music (LETEM), a nonprofit organization that collects used instruments and distributes them to students in need. They also raise money to help offset the fees associated with being in band.

Dolan is a flute player who is also the assistant drum major in the marching band. Howard is a first-chair alto saxophone player in both concert band and jazz band.

Dolan said she has always enjoyed the family atmosphere band director Eric Parker has created. Howard said he appreciates band through an academic point of view. He said music helps him find a new way of learning in all of his subjects.

Howard said when students first join band, many families choose to rent their instruments, then will buy if the student continues with music. He said at pawn shops, a good used saxophone will cost $400 to $500, if you find one; new ones run up to $1,000.

“That’s expensive for any family,” he said.

On top of buying an instrument, the fees associated with band can run high. Dolan said marching band alone costs about $400, depending on the instrument you play. This school year, the CV band has an opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., to participate in the presidential inauguration. That fee will run students about $1,200.

Dolan said they have been collecting used instruments from the community. They take the instruments to Amend Music, which fixes them for free.

“That’s been a huge help,” Howard said.

Students in need of an instrument can fill out an application, which asks them about their financial need, their involvement in their band and their desire to participate. Applicants don’t have to attend Central Valley – the two hope to help students around the county.

Dolan and Howard said they knew they needed to make their organization credible. They knew if they approached businesses for donations, they would have to have official nonprofit 501(c)(3) status for both the credibility and so donors can claim donations on their taxes.

“There were so many forms,” Dolan said about the process. The organization became official on Feb. 20.

Creating your own nonprofit isn’t a new idea at Central Valley. Three years ago, Jesse Shelton, now a senior, created Inland NW Baby, an organization that collects diapers, gently used clothing and hygiene items for low-income families.

Howard said the environment at Central Valley contributes to this idea of service to the community.

“We’re a bunch of overachievers,” he said.

Dolan agreed.

“We have a tradition of excellence,” she said. “You try and do your best.”

The two students run LETEM by themselves. While their parents are supportive, Dolan and Howard said they are pretty hands off when it comes to doing the work.

“We want it to really be us, through and through,” Dolan said.

As of now, the two have collected four instruments. Since they have only been official since February, there wasn’t much time at the end of the school year to distribute any of them, and they hope the beginning of the school year will kick off their plans for LETEM.

They want to have a big event next spring, something sophisticated that will bring in business owners and other donors. There will also be instrument drives at grocery stores and elsewhere.

In two years, when they go on to college, they hope to keep the program going, maybe by handing it off to other students. If they have to, they may take it with them.

“A lot can happen in two years,” Dolan said.

“It’s hard to imagine seeing where we’re going to be,” Howard added. “We don’t want to see it die.”

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