POCA, W.Va. - Two weeks after creating a GoFundMe for new uniforms, the Poca High School band is a little over halfway to meeting its fundraising goal.
A majority of the donated funds came in the last week, after the band's drum major, senior Michael Gibson, wrote a story in FlipSide, the free teen-produced publication put out by the Gazette-Mail.
"I never ever would have imagined this is where we would be at right now. It started with a little Facebook post and some conversations with parents, and it's turned into this," said Lisa DeCrease, who heads the band's boosters. "This kind of support, it's new and it's rare, but it's wonderful."
While the GoFundMe was created a week before Michael's article, shortly after it published smaller donations spanning from $10-$50 began pouring in. They were soon joined by larger donations -- some in the hundreds, and some for $1,000 or $2,000.
"Michael Gibson's heartfelt column in the [Charleston Gazette-Mail] reminded me of how important marching band was to me during my high school years, which otherwise would not have been all that great. Well said!" wrote one anonymous donor, who gave the band $1,000 through the GoFundMe.
The band has raised almost $6,000 of its $10,000 goal, and Bob Carroll, band director at the school, said that's just a fraction of the money that's needed to buy the new uniforms.
"We still haven't met our goal yet. We've made progress, but we have a ways to go," Carroll said. "New uniforms are going to run at least $25,000, and we're still shooting toward that. Anything we can get helps."
In addition to the GoFundMe, Poca City Council voted Monday to donate $3,000 to the cause, something that truly touched DeCrease.
"Every year we bust humps to keep the program moving, just with the general, expected expenses, but we have things we're really, really, really in dire need to get replaced, and we don't have the money for those," DeCrease said. "This support and the community coming together, it's more than we could have hoped for."
Each year, the band has to pay for everything from travel to and from games and competitions, to the rights for the music it plays. It all adds up, Carroll said, and there's not much left for any unforeseen expenses.
Band members also participate in fundraisers every year: selling candy bars, candles, fruit and running a concession stand during football games. When DeCrease and other parents unpacked the band uniforms this year, they knew their regular fundraising wasn't going to be enough to cover the costs for new ones.
"Everything, as soon as we took it out of the box, we could see everything was starting to show its age," DeCrease said. "We wanted the kids to be proud of their uniforms, of their band, so we knew we had to do something."
For Michael, the outpouring of support after his article printed was a shock.
"Seeing it on paper, it made it real, and I think that was the case for other people. I never expected to get the reactions we did," he said. "It showed a lot of love and support, and we don't feel that much. It showed people here do appreciate us and what we do."
Michael's mother, Erin Daniels, who is also a band booster, said that support feels new. It's not something they usually feel in the community toward the band.
"It was a different feeling than we usually have when it comes to the community, but we appreciate it so much," Daniels said. "I hope the support will continue, that this is something the [Poca] band can feel not just now, but in the future."
While Michael will graduate in June, Daniels said her daughter will be at Poca High School in two years, so new uniforms will benefit her, and Daniels' youngest son, as well. For Michael, it's something he hopes he'll look back at with pride, knowing he was an integral part of accomplishing this for the band.
Carroll said the band is a place for students at the school with similar interests to come together and support each other through music. It's accepting, and as they play together, he said they become a kind of "band-family."
"Not all students have a group to belong to in the school. It makes them feel like they belong, and having something like music in common, they really connect," Carroll said. "When you perform music, you're immersed in it. You have to be in tune with each other, as a team. When you do it well, it's such a reward."
After Michael graduates in the spring, he plans to attend Marshall University, where he will study music education. He said his years in the Poca band, and the energy and accomplishments he experienced under Carroll's leadership, reinforced his intentions to do so.
"I think that people need to realize music programs are always going to be underfunded, not just here, but other places, and they're worth investing in," Michael said. "It does change people's lives. It makes them happy."
Anyone interested in donating to the Poca High School band's fundraiser can visit www.gofundme.com/f/poca-marching-band-uniforms, or mail a check to Bob Carroll at One Dot Way, Poca, WV, 25159.