Joe’s M.I.L.L. to launch second annual Play-A-Thon fundraiser

Rob Baker (left) provides guitar lessons to Jade Peter as part of the 2022 Joe’s M.I.L.L. Play-A-Thon. The Tragically Hip guitar player will once again offer lessons to the winner of this year’s fundraiser, which takes place throughout October. Submitted photo.

The Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Instrument Lending Library (Joe’s M.I.L.L.), located at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning at 370 King Street West, has provided an invaluable service to the Kingston community for over two decades. As a not-for-profit organization, the M.I.L.L. relies on donations from the public to secure the necessary funds to lend out a wide range of musical instruments to members of the community, free of charge. 

One of the library’s most popular fundraisers is the annual HomeGrown Live Festival,which takes place every spring in downtown Kingston. In 2023 alone, the festival raised over $10,000 for the beloved organization. While money from HomeGrown goes a long way toward keeping the M.I.L.L. afloat, staff are always looking for more ways to raise money, while increasing the M.I.L.L.’s reach within the local community.

Last year, the library launched another fundraiser — the Play-A-Thon — in hopes of generating additional support for the cherished space on King Street, and this October, Joe’s M.I.L.L. will run its second annual Play-A-Thon. Staff hope this event will raise much-needed funds for the library, while also encouraging Kingstonians to regularly practice a musical instrument.

According to Robb MacKay, a local music educator and one of the fundraiser’s organizers, Play-A-Thon participants will be asked to track the hours they have spent playing their instrument throughout October, while seeking sponsors to support their musical endeavours. MacKay said that although the fundraiser is open to all ages and skill levels, its timing is meant to coincide with the start of the new school year.

“October will be a great place to start with this… In September, kids are heading back to school and things are a little chaotic, [but] by October, if you take music lessons, you’re probably back into those. Lots of kids start new instruments at school every year. [We’re] trying to get players in the habit of playing [their instrument] regularly,” he explained.

MacKay went on to note that regular instrument practice over a sustained period of time will allow young musicians to develop important traits that will help them hone their musical abilities: “Playing five minutes a day over seven days is way better than playing now [and then] or just for your lesson… After a while, if you’ve been playing regularly, you’ll probably carry that forward throughout the rest of the year.” 

According to organizers, the idea for the Play-A-Thon was inspired by Read-A-Thon campaigns, such as those organized by the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. MacKay explained, “You’d talk to your grandma, or your great-aunt, or whomever, and they would sponsor you for the books you read. At the end of the month, they would cough up some money and send that off to [the MS Society].”

For the 2023 Joe’s M.I.L.L. Play-A-Thon, participants will be sponsored based on the number of hours played on their chosen instrument; alternatively, sponsors may also opt to give a flat-rate donation for the month. 

While the month-long campaign will bring in much-needed funding for the local lending library, MacKay said participants should see a return benefit, based on improvements to the library made possible by the money they raise.

“We’re trying to raise money and, at the same time, hoping the fundraiser will benefit the people who are raising funds for us, rather than by [just] asking people for money… This is a great way to launch yourself into something new or to maintain something you’ve already been doing,” he said. 

The Play-A-Thon starts Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, and will last for 31 days. At the end of the month, the library will distribute special prizes to the most successful participants.

“We’re offering instruments from the M.I.L.L., [including] a set of drums, a keyboard, and a guitar and amp,” McKay said.

Local vendors have also donated various prizes to the campaign. According to the organizer, prizes will be distributed across two different categories: those who raise the most money, and those who log the most number of hours played. 

For the second year in a row, one lucky participant will also have an opportunity to get some hands-on experience from a Canadian rock legend, as The Tragically Hip’s Rob Baker has volunteered to offer guitar lessons to one of the participants. 

2022 Play-A-Thon participant and winner Jade Peter introduces this year’s fundraiser. Video via Joe’s M.I.L.L.

While aspects of the fundraiser have been organized around the school year in an effort to encourage young people to take part, MacKay stressed that the campaign is open to anyone, regardless of age or experience.

“We’ve got lots of people in Kingston who play well into their later years. Everybody talks about how it’s never too late to pick up an instrument. There’s all sorts of research right now that says playing an instrument is good for your brain,” he said. 

As a non-profit organization, Joe’s M.I.L.L. is guaranteed no annual income through sales or government funding. Instead, the organization must rely on support from the community to stay in operation. “We’re on a very, very tight budget every year. It always comes down to fundraising,” explained MacKay. While previous fundraisers have supported upgrades to the permanent M.I.L.L. location at the Tett Centre, recent campaigns have allowed the library to expand its programming, including a new satellite location at the Rideau Heights Community Centre

“That [satellite location] takes money to maintain, but it also expanded our reach tremendously out into the north end,” MacKay said. “It’s saving a lot of people $15 cab rides to the Tett Centre, and it’s a big deal. The physical [location at the Tett Centre] is great; we’re happy to be there, and we love to have people in the door all the time. But we also wanted to figure out what we can do… [so] that people don’t necessarily have to travel. What can we do to open those possibilities up?”

In addition to the new Rideau Heights location, staff have also been working with the Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) to allow library patrons to book M.I.L.L. instruments through the KFPL website, among other initiatives. As MacKay emphasized, “[We’re] not merely maintaining what’s going on, but we’re [also] trying to grow to reach more people.”

More information on the 2023 Play-A-Thon, including registration, playing logs, and contest rules, can be found on the Joe’s M.I.L.L. website.

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