Every day on HuffPost, we're highlighting one 'Greatest Person'- an exceptional individual who is confronting the country's economic and political crises with creativity, generosity, and passion. Today we're featuring Ian Felton, a successful owner of a software company in the Twin Cities who is giving back to where he comes from: Appalachia. Two years ago he founded Marching Mountains, a non-profit that collects used musical instruments from around the country and distributes them to public schools in impoverished regions of Appalachia. Music inspired him as a kid, and his dedication to making kids in Appalachia have the same opportunities he did inspired us.
Huffington Post: How did you get started in music?
Ian Felton: It started with the saxophone in elementary school. Then the snare drum in middle school. I picked up the bass guitar in high school and participated in jazz band, marching band, and played in a cover band.
HP: What did music mean to you growing up?
IF: Like many young people in America, I used music to escape from a difficult family situation. I lived in Preston County, West Virginia, with an abusive stepfather in a pony barn that had some drywall put up for walls and a few dangling light-switches installed. My schools' music departments provided a solid connection to something positive before being carried by a bus back to a bleak life. Even today, my best friends are the ones I played music with in high school. Without an opportunity to be in band, I would have lost out on immeasurable things.
HP: You're now 35 and call the Twin Cities home. How did this happen?
IF: I left Appalachia five years ago. Opportunities presented themselves to me in Minnesota and I took them. I'm now the owner of a software company in the Twin Cities. I work full-time and work on Marching Mountains on the side. I'm fortunate in that I've done well enough in my professional life to be able to take some time between contracts to spend on this. It's been so rewarding.
HP: What does Marching Mountains do?
IF: We have three goals. The first is to create a network to supply public middle school and high school band programs in distressed counties of Appalachia with new and used supplies and instruments. The second is to improve the quality of band programs in distressed regions of Appalachia and Appalachia in general. The third is to highlight the uniqueness of Appalachia's culture and the genuine nature of many of its people. This August we delivered the first batch of instruments. Watch the video below to see Marching Mountain's first delivery of instruments from Minneapolis to Morgantown, Harts and Mt. Zion, West Virginia and Inez, Kentucky.
HP: Describe how Marching Mountains is run.
IF: I handle most of the charity's legwork myself, from building the website to writing press releases to driving around Minnesota collecting used instruments from donors who e-mail me. Last year I appointed a board of directors to take the organization to the next level, and ultimately hope to expand the network out of Appalchia.
HP: What do you get out of Marching Mountains?
IF: Although the organization has eaten away at my sleep and play-time, and distracts me from seeking paid contract jobs, I feel more fulfilled than ever. Our society gives us all sorts of ideas of what's going to make our lives better, and most of us have tried all of those. But nothing is more effective in transforming your life and views than getting your hands deeply involved in something meaningful. You receive something that no amount of money, weight loss, or any else can come close to matching.
WATCH: Marching Mountains makes its first delivery
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