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Fine tuning and strumming their way to peace of mind

Navy Veteran taking guitar lesson from volunteer instructor

It’s never too late to learn something new, to find a new hobby and surprise yourself with a new skill. Diving into something creative can immerse you into an alternate universe, wiping away barriers and allowing you to see a path less traveled.

Guitars for Vets is a program that aims to do just that for America’s Veterans.

In 2007 Guitars for Vets was founded when a Vietnam Veteran and his guitar instructor discovered first-hand the therapeutic effects of learning how to play guitar. The program’s website states, “Veterans shouldn’t have to face the challenges of PTSD in silence or alone. Through the teamwork and camaraderie of Guitars for Vets, they can join a community where they learn to play guitar and find solace in the songs they love as well as the songs they have yet to write.”

Larry Fredrickson, Army Veteran and White River Junction VA Healthcare System volunteer began taking lessons as COVID-19 was emerging in the United States. The Guitar for Vets program adjusted and began to host virtual lessons.

Each Veteran that goes through this program takes 10 private lessons with a volunteer instructor before graduating. Upon graduation a new, donated guitar is given to the Veteran.

In the summer of 2020 Fredrickson graduated and felt so inspired by how this program had helped him that he approached Brooke Robinson Drew, Creative Arts Therapist at White River Junction VA.

Drew did not hesitate in collaborating with Fredrickson. “The Veterans benefit in so many ways from being part of this program.” Drew said, “Music has a way of saying things that words cannot. This program is great for Veterans that seek alternative ways to express themselves and to feel heard.”

In the summer of 2021, White River Junction VA Healthcare System began with their first group of Veterans and volunteer instructors. At the end of 2021 a small graduation ceremony was given to the graduates and new guitars were donated to them.

“The gift of the guitar is to encourage each graduate to continue on their musical journey.” Fredrickson said. “We host jam sessions for the graduates and any other Veteran that plays because we believe the comradery does not need to end at graduation.”

Justin Gordon, Post 9/11 Marine Corps Veteran was among the first to graduate. Gordon was always drawn to music and was especially interested in trying to play the guitar. When Brooke Robinson-Drew announced this new program, he knew he couldn’t miss out on the opportunity.

Upon graduation Gordon said, “My experience was incredible. I didn't think I would be able to do it, especially with a lot of my disabilities. But my instructor Frank [WRJ VA Pharmacist] really taught me well, and when some sections were a little more complicated, we spent more time on them until I understood. This program really brings tranquility and calmness. Every time I was playing with Frank, it felt so nice just to hear the sound of the guitar being strum. I plan to keep playing and hope to be good enough to play with my seven-year-old son, who loves the drums and my 12-year-old daughter who loves to sing.”

If you would like to learn more about the Guitar for Vets program at White River Junction VA Healthcare System please reach out to Brooke Robinson Drew, Creative Arts Therapist.

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