This is the story of how a “quiet unassuming hero” in Forest Park, teamed up with a community-minded woman in York, Pennsylvania to provide musical instruments to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford them. 

Mindy Jo Hamme knew firsthand how beneficial it is for kids to play music. Four years ago, she purchased two violins for her daughter, Emily, from Kagan & Gaines. The Forest Park store has quite a following in York, thanks to their relationship with the music teachers in that area. 

One of these teachers had applied for a $5,000 grant to purchase 21 instruments to lend them to kids who couldn’t afford to pay monthly rental fees. The grant was turned down. Up stepped Mindy, who made it her mission to get these instruments. She said it was the most meaningful project she had ever undertaken.

K&G’s owner, Joe Cali, first got wind of the project when Mindy called him in April. Joe was on board from the start. Although, he has never met Mindy, he considers her a “really nice lady” and his heart went out to the kids who wouldn’t be able to participate in the music program. Cali has a very generous nature, which he inherited from his father.

Joe Cali Sr., who just turned 90, was “great to everybody,” according to his son. When he operated K&G, he “gave it away, even if he didn’t have it.” Joe Jr. is a bit more pragmatic but made sure the instruments for Mindy were “very well-priced.” 

Mindy worked full time as a systems engineer and spent her evenings calling strangers, asking them for money. 

“I didn’t know how hard this was going to be,” she said. “It was very time-consuming but worthwhile.” Her pitch improved with practice and she was smart in targeting patrons of the symphony. She didn’t ask friends or family members but Emily insisted on donating her own money.

Twenty-two donors stepped up and contributed a total of $6,625. Thanks to their generosity and Joe’s, they were able to purchase more than 30 instruments. Joe assembled 25 violins and violas, five cellos and two upright basses. K&G is donating some of these larger instruments. A K&G customer also chipped in with a cello.

Joe has all the instruments boxed up and ready to go. He’s having them shipped by truck directly to the school. Mindy has a crew on her end to unload them. 

“Joe is wonderful,” she said. “He believes in what he’s doing. This is going to make a huge impact in our small world.”

You can read about how learning an instrument positively impacts students in an eloquent letter Mindy wrote to the Review (see Opinion). I really admire Mindy and Joe and enjoyed talking with them. But afterward I was thinking: if we can help kids 600 miles away, why can’t we help the kids here in Forest Park?

Why can’t we include strings in our music program like the communities around us? Joe would be more than happy to rent instruments to District 91 students. Plus we have a surplus of string teachers in Forest Park. 

It kills me how schools cut back on music and art when the budget gets tight. We study plenty of subjects in school that we will never use in life. But learning to play an instrument can be the gift of a lifetime. It’s the single greatest gift I ever received and I wish every kid in Forest Park could have the same opportunity. 

But first I’d like to thank Joe and Mindy for being such caring people and setting such a wonderful example.

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.