Chad Urmston of Dispatch discusses band’s education initiatives & reunion

By Laura Ferreiro

New England trio Dispatch are gearing up to release their first studio album in 12 years, “Circles Around the Sun,” next month. The band, which is widely considered one of the most successful independent rock bands around, has always been known for tackling political issues and using music as a platform to affect social change. They’re about to embark on an extensive tour of the U.S. to support the album, and will donate $1 from each concert ticket and each album sold to their Amplifying Education (AmpEd) initiative.

“We think there’s a crisis in the education system in this country and we want to get a dialogue going,” singer/guitarist Chad Urmston tells Music for Good. “We’ve been doing service projects before shows and encouraging fans to get involved with in whatever way they can.”

In the past year, AmpEd has engaged more than 500 volunteers in a whopping 4,000 hours of service to improve U.S. schools, collected more than 10,000 books to support New Orleans Recovery School District libraries, and interacted with tens of thousands of fans at its Amplifying Education Non-Profit Village. They’ve also raised more than $250,000 through ticket sales and benefit shows.

“We’re trying to get more info about the education system and why it isn’t where it should be,” Urmston explains. “Why if you’re born in the wrong zip code, you have a 30 percent chance of dropping out before finishing high school.”

Dispatch engages fans by meeting up with them before shows to work on volunteer projects, such as repainting schools, repairing playgrounds and collecting books to donate to schools. “We try to help (our fans) just get their feet wet—volunteering can be intimidating. But if you can get them to walk through the door they can see what’s out there and kind of roll with it.”

What’s more, Dispatch works with other education-focused non-profit organizations like City Year, which unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to graduation. “A little bit of that one-on-one attention that City Year volunteers give creates a transformation that is incredible,” Urmston says. “They do amazing stuff. In some ways the system is kind of broken. They are there playing a crucial role in specific incidences and scenarios, where a kid, if left to his or her own devices in a classroom of 35 kids, would fall through the cracks. They’re there to catch them before they fall.”

Urmston, who also fronts State Radio, says that one of the band’s major challenges now that they’ve reunited is figuring out how to strike a balance between their music and their charitable projects. “It takes so much organizing,” he says. “We were doing a service project every day in every city. The band was playing second fiddle—we had to find that balance.”

Now that they’ve recruited several volunteers to help out and found creative, low-maintenance ways of giving back such as donating a portion of concert ticket and album sales proceeds, they’re excited to get out on the road to bring their message to the masses.

“It’s an election year and we’re touring, so there’s a lot going on,” Urmston says. “We want to help bring education to the forefront of people’s minds so there’s a dialogue about our country and where it’s going. The best way to ensure that the future is a promising one is to start with children in the classrooms. We just hope it’s an issue that people get into and the great minds of our country can figure out how to turn it around. We want to be helpful in being a part of the solution.”

Click here to get involved and find out more about Amplifying Education and Dispatch’s volunteer programs.

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