A chance meeting and combined performance a year and a half ago at the Veterans Day Parade in New York formed a unique bond between West Valley High School band members and the Michigan City Soul Steppers, a high-energy drill team from Indiana.
That combined performance also inspired West Valley High School band director Jim Loucks to launch a fundraiser to provide new band equipment for the Soul Steppers.
“I saw a need there for a group of kids. I was so impressed with their pride and performance,” he said. “Their equipment was so bad, but it didn’t affect them at all. It’s just a way for us to reach out to somebody else and share with them.”
Loucks was able to meet a $9,000 fundraising goal through donations from Spokane and other areas throughout the Northwest.
He surprised the Soul Steppers last month with the new band equipment at their annual Christmas party.
“They got the drums out … the dance team was there and they did a performance for me with the new equipment,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the Spokane community and the outlying areas. Their generosity was just unbelievable.”
Loucks partnered with Tacoma-based Ted Brown Music Co. and Tennessee-based music manufacturer KHS America Inc. to provide 90 percent of instruments needed by the Soul Steppers, which included snare, tenor and other types of drums.
KHS America Northwest Regional Sales Manager Ben St. John said Loucks reached out to him last year to discuss the fundraiser.
“I wanted to meet him and figure out more about what he was doing and why,” St. John said.“Jim mentioned how hard (the Soul Steppers) were working to do something great for their community. But, they just didn’t have any resources.”
The Soul Steppers – a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth by providing activities such as community service, mentoring sessions and performance practice sessions – was founded in 2000 by director Lyn Isbell. The group participates in more than 25 parades every year.
The fundraiser aligned with the culture of KHS America, which is to contribute to school and society through education and performance, St. John said.
The cost to outfit a drum group ranges from $25,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the group, St. John said.
St. John worked with KHS America’s percussion product manager to secure a set of instruments for the Soul Steppers, which were provided at a discount in conjunction with Ted Brown Music Co.
KHS America shipped 34 boxes of equipment to Isbell, who stored the boxes in her garage until the annual Christmas party.
“Lyn swore she wouldn’t say a word, and she didn’t. (The kids) had no idea,” Loucks said. “Lyn kept it a secret for a year.”
The Soul Steppers have members from all ages, with some coming from really rough backgrounds, Loucks said, but Isbell has been able to turn their lives around through music.
“A lot of these kids have been on their own for awhile and were really young when Lyn found them wandering in the streets,” he said.
Loucks said the fundraising experience was gratifying. A memory of Nolan – a band member whose face lit up when he was surprised with the band equipment – will stick with him.
“The Michigan City Soul Steppers have been a bright shining star for their community,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed and blessed that people believed enough in the story to give.”
Loucks said he hopes the Soul Steppers in the future will be able to visit Spokane and perform in the Lilac Parade.
“It would be amazing to bring them here,” he said.
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