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Living a Better Story: Arts funding need inspires student to start bumper sticker drive

In Depth The Living a Better Story program, inspired by Christian author Donald Miller, invites sophomores to take an envelope with $5, $10, or $15 in it and find a way to meaningfully multiply it for a good cause. Students have combined ideas with their skills and talents to make a difference in the community and abroad.

When sophomore Colby Lapolla, a Atlanta-area native, received an envelope at the second annual Living a Better Story convo, she took it with a quote in mind.

“Donald Miller told us, ‘Remember, this is God’s money,’” she recalled.

With the money in her envelope – part of a gift an anonymous Belmont donor provided for the charitable project – she combined her passion for music with her compassion for kids by deciding to raise money by selling bumper stickers for music programs in Nashville’s public schools.

“Obviously music is the biggest part of my life,” said the Atlanta-area native,  “and in my home state, all of our elementary music programs were recently cut.”

She felt this was important because many people wouldn’t learn to play an instrument if they weren’t first exposed to it through a public school music program.

Lapolla learned just how much Nashville public schools could benefit from music programs. She found 96 percent of students in the arts graduate from high school as opposed to 75 percent of all students, and that many schools in the Metro system can’t afford to pay for the teachers, instruments, and music required for a music program.

“I’m one of those people that if I see something wrong happening, I’m going to do something about it,” Lapolla said. “Music changed my life. I want other people to have that opportunity.”

Lapolla decided to make bumper stickers to raise awareness and funds for music programs in schools. She found printers that would create 100 stickers for $45, which included $40 of her own money.

The initiative, titled “Project Make a Joyful Noise,” in referred to Psalms 95:1, because Lapolla said wanted to glorify God at the heart of the project, rather than fundraising alone.

“I feel closest to God when I’m doing music,” she said, and she wants to share that spiritual experience with others.

The stickers were printed with the messages “Make a joyful noise,” and Psalms 95:1: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”

She then started a Facebook group to publicize the project and invited all of her Facebook friends who are Belmont students.

“I was especially hopeful about the music school, just because they’d be so passionate for music,” Lapolla said.

She contacted faculty members, her family and friends from home, past directors, various musicians and professors.

On the day the stickers arrived, Dr. Bill Caldwell, director of Belmont’s Oratorio Chorus, allowed her to speak to approximately 200 students of the ensemble.

“How many of you all would be standing here in the top choir in one of the top music schools in the country,” Lapolla asked them, “if you didn’t have a great teacher or learn to play recorder in second grade?”

After her presentation, a crowd of people wanted to donate and buy stickers. By the end of the day, Lapolla had already raised $102 from selling bumper stickers for $2 each and accepting donations.

At this point, the sophomore has now raised more than $400 through sales and many unsolicited donations. “The thing I love about Belmont to begin with is how people support each other,” she said.

The funds are enough to buy a saxophone, her original goal for the project. With its growing success, however, she started thinking about making the effort sustainable. She has now been contacting local residents for larger donations, and wants to start a similar project near her hometown in Atlanta.

“It’s not a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it for three weeks,” Lapolla said.

Lapolla already wanted to help fundraise for music education, but Living a Better Story was the kick start she needed to do it.

“I just want to be, forgive the pun, but, instrumental in giving people the ability to not only learn to play music and learn to sing, but also to have the life change that comes with an involvement in the arts,” she said.

Lapolla feels that her peers have received the effort with open arms.

Moore agrees the support for Lapolla’s project has been surprising and exciting, but that it also speaks to the character of Belmont students.

“Belmont has the kind of people that care about things that don’t even affect them. They realize that if it affects part of our nation it affects all of them,” she said. “That’s Belmont to me.”

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