BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – What started out as a few guitars and a dream is now a full-blown music studio thanks to James River High School alumnus Matthew Ramsey.
The Old Dominion frontman is known for giving back to his community.
For many years, he and other Nashville songwriters have put on a benefit concert at the school and his foundation, The Ramsey Foundation, also donates to the local food pantry.
Now, his latest donation of $19,000 has helped create a music studio for the school.
The work was started by teacher-turned-librarian Jim McLeese, who has a passion for music.
A few years ago, McLeese and another teacher visited a school in Northern Virginia that had a music studio in the school.
McLeese then spent a couple of hundred dollars to buy basic equipment for the school, but it was Ramsey’s donation that changed everything.
“I was overwhelmed,” said McLeese. “Something like that doesn’t happen every day.”
Thanks to Ramsey’s donation, James River was able to buy microphones, different types of guitars, a drum set and a recording console.
“Kids who are in kindergarten now will eventually be able to use it. Kids who aren’t even born yet will hopefully be able to use it,” said McLeese.
The work to set it up started back in January and now it’s up and running.
“When it first got in I was like ‘heck yeah,’” said senior Bradley Hunter. “We can actually get a group, have a band to play some music and record it. There’s new opportunities to learn new stuff.”
Teachers hope Ramsey’s donation inspires other students to give back.
“He has become very successful, but at the same time has not forgotten where he came from,” said McLeese.
“It’s really cool that he invested in the school that he went to provide them an opportunity to play instruments to help them fulfill what they want to do,” said Hunter. “I’ve watched a talent show video of him when he pretty much first started playing his guitar at the talent show here. Just watching him go from that to this is motivating.”
Now that things are up and running McLeese is looking forward to learning the equipment.
“I’m a music lover,” McLeese said. “I’ve been playing guitar for decades now and the fact that this has become part of my job is unbelievable.”
Although everyone who walks through the doors won’t be the next country music superstar, McLeese hopes it will teach lessons that last a lifetime.
“It’s just a way to relax, it’s a way to express yourself, your feelings, your emotions. It’s just a good outlet,” McLeese said.