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Are you ready to help now?

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
July 31, 2020

I get it! I really do. For a few days in July, illegal fireworks, especially this year, were annoying. They are also potentially dangerous. Even without a pet, or PTSD, hearing them go off for many days and at all hours of the night is certainly irritating. I can understand why some in our community want a complete ban. However, that decision comes with consequences. Banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks will have no impact on the use of illegal fireworks according to Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos. It will have a large impact on the community non-profits that rely on selling legal fireworks to fund their activities. 

Here’s a look at one such non-profit which will be impacted. The Rancho Cotate Music Department.  Dolores Haworth is the President and Vickie Gilbert is the Vice President. I spoke with them on July 19 while researching this story. They are boosters supporting the music classes at Rancho Cotate High School. They will do anything to “help their kids.” Spending a week staffing a hot fireworks booth for hours at a time “is no fun;” but the funds raised represent a significant part of the money they need to support them.

The music program are classes not extracurricular activities. You can’t charge the kids to participate in these classes. In addition to staffing, the Music Department only gets $5,000 for new instruments and sheet music; plus, another $1,000 for repair of existing instruments. The cost of new instruments ranges from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. For example, a new saxophone goes from $1,000 upwards. And repairing a broken saxophone could expend the repair budget for a single instrument. And in tough budget times, programs like the arts and music tend to experience funding cuts or elimination.

But these programs are important. They need more, not less, funding. That’s where the music boosters come in. They raise additional funds to support the programs and music activities. Dolores and Vickie are passionate about what they do. They said, “they’ve saved a lot of kids,” kids who didn’t feel as socially accepted because they weren’t the cool kids, the athletes, or the cheerleaders. They gravitate towards music, a place where regardless of their differences in gender identity, economic status, or social awkwardness; they are accepted and part of a family. Vickie, Dolores and others become their momma bears!

Music boosters have a hard time raising money. They must compete with sports programs, other non-profits or community organizations. Recently, they are also competing with wildfire relief, protest efforts and support for businesses and essential workers. Getting donations is getting harder, not easier. Their fund-raising efforts such as firework sales remain critical to their efforts. In a typical year, after expenses are deducted, they raise about $4,000 or 20 percent of their annual funds from these sales. 

These funds are used to clean uniforms for the Marching Band. This is the only Marching Band in Sonoma County. They also help offset the cost of travel, entry fees, bus rentals and other costs for the band to travel to competitions in the Bay Area. There were five events planned this year but only two were held prior to cancellations required because of COVID-19. The band placed first in both competitions.

These funds also support more than a marching band. There are also drum line/color guard competitions and symphony music performances. They were able to hire three clinicians from the Blue Devils program to help coach the kids. This coaching allows the kids to up their performances and skills. You can find more information about the Blue Devils at: 

You also can’t just print copies of sheet music for the kids. There are copyright issues. You must purchase the music for each kid. With between 70-100 students, the cost adds up. You can support these kids by sending a donation to Rancho Cotate High School at 5450 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park, CA 94928 attention: Music Department.

Yes, traditional bake sales, car washes or dine and donate events are held. There is also a fair share program where parents are asked to “voluntarily” pay a portion of the expense for their kids to participate in events outside the classroom. But no kid is turned away because their family can’t afford to donate. Banning fireworks sales will hurt these kids. So, if fireworks get banned, are you ready to step up and support the non-profits that rely on those sales?