A Gift of Music

Leah Witthuhn explored her passion for music at an early age, thanks to the generosity of the Appleton community.

Witthuhn is doing the same by giving the gift of music to young, aspiring musicians.

The Appleton native is the founder of The Music Mission: a nonprofit organization that provides donated musical instruments and lessons to youth in the Fox Cities who can’t afford them.

Witthuhn – a college student who is pursuing her master’s degree in counseling from Marquette University – started the organization at the age of 15. The donated musical instruments – whether they are guitars, drums, or trombones – are either fixed or refurbished by partnering local music stores before they’re gifted to children of lower-income families.

As for the music lessons, Music Mission works with partners such as Heid Music to provide the necessary practice materials and qualified instructors who may volunteer, offer discounted rates, or receive tuition from Music Mission in the form of a scholarship. Lessons in guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards are the most popular.

While most of the young people provided with instruments or lessons are from the Fox Cities, Music Mission has also supplied instruments to students in Cambodia, Haiti, and Guatemala. Music Mission has been assisted along the way with financial donations and grants from organizations such as Elevate 920 and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. Witthuhn’s philanthropy work won her the 2016 Youth Scholarship Award sponsored by Community First Credit Union. She is assisted by a volunteer board of directors.

“I’m very happy with our growth,” Witthuhn said. “It grew a lot quicker than I expected. I never expected it to reach more than just a couple kids per year. It’s been awesome. The kids are always grateful and excited. Sometimes when you hand them an instrument, you have to tell them, ‘No, you don’t have to give it back.’ That’s really cool to see.”

Witthuhn launched Music Mission when she was a sophomore at Appleton East High School. She did it as a means of giving back to the community, since she was gifted with equipment at a young age.

“Growing up, I was always into music,” said Witthuhn, who received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Carroll University. “I started playing guitar when I was 5 and I wanted to play every instrument possible.”

Witthuhn also played in rock bands including Bad Habitz, Twister Tazzle, and Overdrive.

“Being in rock bands required a lot of equipment.” Witthuhn said. “My parents couldn’t always afford an amp or a new guitar or a trombone for me in band. So, I was gifted a lot by mentors and teachers that allowed me to stay involved in music. When I came up with the idea (for Music Mission) in high school, I just felt like I could do that for somebody else. That’s how it started.”

To make a donation or provide a musical instrument, call Music Mission at 920-733-5172 or go to its website, musicmissionappleton.org. The organization can also be emailed at MusicMissionAppleton@gmail.com, or reached on its Facebook page.