Her two daughters participated in band through graduation. She's been a band supporter and is president of The William Penn Music Booster Association.
Recently, she started to fear that her son, who has played drums since elementary school, would miss out during his senior year.
A proposal given to the York City School Board May 7 eliminated kindergarten, all sports, art and music to help balance the district's 2012-13 budget, which started with a $19 million deficit.
Heilman realized that meant her son's soccer squad, swim team and marching band were gone. But he was only one of many students who saw their extracurricular options in danger of disappearing.
"What are the kids going to do?" Heilman asked. Kids might be more at risk to become involved with crime if they have fewer activities, she added.
So, Heilman and other parents, band alumni and community members started planning a fundraiser for the music program and a rally.
A few weeks later, they received positive news from the school board: A new proposal would keep three music positions.
Organizers celebrated the small victory, but Jennifer Crawmer, wife of William Penn director of bands Kevin Crawmer, knew three teachers wouldn't be enough. At one time, the district had a dozen music instructors.
"I think people were relieved that some art and some sports and some music were saved," Crawmer said. "We still have a job to do. We still have some goals. The kids in the city need to have a well-rounded education."
Volunteers continued efforts to set up a fundraising concert. They named the effort Continue the Music, launched an event website and gathered sponsors. Crawmer met with Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center officials, who agreed to let the William Penn music boosters rent the theater for the Saturday event.
Several performers, including alumni of York music programs, signed on to play the event, Heilman said. Organizers have set a tentative goal to raise $10,000. If people can't attend, they can still make donations on the event website.
"It would be nice to have the theater packed," Heilman said. "At this point, every little bit helps. We would love to have the (music) staff at full capacity. We had to at least try, or we would regret it."
Heilman said she had to do something for the William Penn kids she used to see daily. But she was a high school secretary for only three months before she was furloughed. That was about a year ago.
- Erin McCracken,
Musicians talk about fundraiser, music programAdam Kowalczyk first heard about the Continue the Music benefit from his mom. "She new that I need to know about it because of how close we were to the music department growing up," said Kowalczyk, who played the trumpet from fourth grade through graduation.
He became a touring musician for Live, the band his brother Ed once fronted, and has a solo career. Now, he lives in Lancaster.
He said when he attended William Penn High School, the band was about 200 kids strong. Now, it's about a fourth of that size.
Kowalczyk reached out to organizers to see if he could help. Saturday, he'll perform and talk about his experiences in theYork music program.
"It's heart-wrenching to hear that the program could dissolve," he said. "There was this family bond. It was an unspoken love."
Kowalczyk added that he hopes his young daughter can have that same experience someday.
"Right now, she likes the drums, and I'm OK with that," he said. "Female drummers (are) very cool."
Don Carn lived through the flush times in York City School District.
When Carn started teaching, he said York's music program was one of the better ones in the state. He had the opportunity to coach members of the group Live during the 1980s - before they became rock stars.
"I think that York has some of the best musicians per capita from any other small town I've been in," said Carn, who also performs gigs at area venues.
In recent years, he said, the music staff has had to do more with less, as teaching positions have been cut.
Carn has to teach elementary, middle and high school students each week, instead of focusing on one program.
"It's very time consuming," he said. That means students don't get as much attention.
Without a competitive music program in the city's schools, York's talent pool could dwindle, Carn added. Some students are migrating to other schools.
If you go
The William Penn Music Booster Association hosts a Continue the Music benefit concert 6 p.m. Saturday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. Tickets are $20 and proceeds go to York City School District music programs.
Bands performing include Adam Kowalczyk, Booker Lee & The County Fair, Changing Tides, Don Carn and Friends, Hierosonic, Islands Apart and Red Room. Concessions will be available during the event. For details about the event, visit www.continuethemusic.com. For tickets, call 717-846-1111 Or visit www.mystrandcapitol.org.