I'm broke. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am now hostessing part-time at a seafood restaurant, my parents really do love me, and I am an official ambassador for the Phantom Regiment. "What's an ambassador?" you may ask. Fear not, little one, for the answer will come in time.
When I first decided to march with the Phantom Regiment, I knew that I would need some form of financial assistance to offset the high costs of membership dues. So, I went to corpsreps.com and posted my name as a member in need of sponsorship. From there, I sat back and waited. I got nothing. In the end, I paid for the 2002 season by myself, thanks to some liberal scheduling at work, and my incredible skill with an order pad, a tray and a smile. It was tough, but I made it. Once tour ended, my time was occupied with establishing my new life at school in Madison. Sponsorship, especially corpsreps.com, was the last thing on my mind. That changed about two minutes before I left for the March camp of the 2003 season. As I was checking my e-mail one last time, I saw a message about a potential sponsorship. Because I was already running late, I sent a quick note back to verify that I had received the e-mail, and promised something more substantial upon my return from camp. As promised, I drew up a rather lengthy e-mail describing myself and the Phantom Regiment in both broad and specific terms, including a report of our latest camp. In response, I was fortunate to find out that I was officially being partially sponsored for the 2003 season. This was an enormous act of generosity on this man's part, and I wanted to make sure that he knew that I didn't take it for granted. From that day onward, I made it a point to get to know the person behind the money, as well as let him experience Phantom Regiment from a member's perspective. There's not much that I held back from him. He heard about the highs and lows of drum corps life. I shared my experiences with him as I lived them. He felt the same pain and frustration as I did every time that I did battle with the euphonium. He shared my excitement as I got to put on the brand new white uniform for the first time. If it was happening to me, he was hearing about it. We built a great relationship. Here was a person that was interested in drum corps, and now he had an "inside" connection. When he'd come to rehearsal, there was someone that he could look for, and talk to on breaks. At shows, he now had someone to cheer for as we took the field. As for me, I now had someone that I could share my experiences with, and who was genuinely interested in learning all about drum corps and Phantom Regiment. Explaining the ins and outs of our corps helped me to deepen my understanding and respect for the organization. It was as if we both now had two sets of eyes -- those of the fan, and those of the member. In the end, we both became much closer to Phantom Regiment than either of us could have come by ourselves. And we both had made a new friend to boot! It was a great experience for both of us. So great, in fact, that we wanted to share this opportunity with others. It was here that the Phantom Regiment Ambassadors Program was born. Matt Leide, my sponsor, took the initiative to draw up a plan that would allow fans to connect with Phantom Regiment while helping members offset the costs of marching. He modeled the program after his experiences with me, and pitched it to the board of directors. After a little tweaking (and a lot of legwork), Matt became the coordinator of the new program. It's really a straightforward process. Members searching for financial assistance fill out an application and create a profile. This profile is posted on the Regiment Web site, and is accessible for viewing by any person, at any time. Fans that are looking to sponsor a member can then browse through the available profiles from the comfort of their own homes. If a member is chosen to participate in the ambassador program, he must adhere to a high standard of behavior. As an ambassador, he must do what he can to welcome his sponsor into the Phantom Regiment family, through a variety of means. Each program is tailored to the wishes of the sponsor. That way, if a fan is looking to build a close personal relationship with both the member and the corps, it is the member's responsibility to see that it happens. However, those wishing to build a more distant relationship are welcome as well. The idea is to help fans create a more personal connection to the Phantom Regiment, in whatever way makes them the most comfortable. The Phantom Regiment Ambassadors Program was a success for the 2004 season, and 2005 is looking even better. Those who participated last year are returning to the program, and new prospects are looking to join the ranks. On a personal level, it is thanks to the Ambassadors Program that I can afford to march my age-out summer. One person really can make a difference. To find out more about the Phantom Regiment Ambassadors Program, visit the corps' Web site. Lanah Kopplin is a third-year euphonium player in the Phantom Regiment, and previously spent a year with the Pioneer. Lanah recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin (she's a Milwaukee native) with a political science degree, and will age out in 2005.