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Helping those who help themselves

A planned trip by the Lakeland High School Marching Band, the “Quiet Storm,” to Washington, D.C., for the prestigious Memorial Day parade turns out to be a good example in the stewardship of taxpayer funds by a city government.

When the Quiet Storm was invited to be the only Virginia high school band to march in the National Memorial Day Parade on May 31, members were justifiably excited and proud about the opportunity. Only one high school band is chosen from each state to perform in the yearly parade in Washington, D.C. The invitation for Lakeland came from D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who apparently either had heard of Lakeland’s reputation or saw the band at an event, according to band director Alvin Wilson II.

But the $377 cost per band member for transportation, lodging, meals and activities would be too steep for some of the band’s members, so Wilson did last fall what many Americans would do — he turned to the government for help, addressing the Suffolk City Council and asking for funds back in November.

In another year, council might have agreed to put up the $27,000, recognizing the benefits to all involved of having a Suffolk school representing the state during the parade. But in the midst of the recession, council members said they needed to see some commitment by the band’s members to their own cause, sending Wilson away with the advice that the Quiet Storm work to raise some of its own money first.

With the understanding that they would have to take steps to help themselves, members of the band have spent much of the ensuing time hosting bake sales, pancake breakfasts, car washes and other fundraising activities, with the result that they raised $20,000 during the past four months.

“We made a suggestion that education is about looking towards the future and doing some impossible things, and I think they have done that,” Councilman Charles Brown said last week. “This is what makes people great.” Brown and the other council members voted unanimously to provide the remaining $6,500 the band needs to make the trip.

Brown was correct in his comment. The hard work that band members put into achieving their dream — along with the lesson they learned about self-reliance — is the kind of thing that can change a life. While they march along the streets of Washington, band members can take pride in the fact that they helped get themselves there. That knowledge should make a great experience even sweeter.