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Offering the Healing Power of Music

Guitars for Vets Chapter Opens at VFW National Home

Dakota Wilson instructs National Home resident.

VFW National Home Executive Director and veteran Mike Wilson cites music as one of the primary agents that brought him calm and peace.

“It’s been huge for me,” he says. “We have so many vets working through PTSD and combat trauma that I knew we needed to offer this on campus.”

The new Guitars for Vets chapter at the VFW National Home joins over 160 other chapters nationwide. The organization, started in 2007 by a guitar teacher and a Vietnam vet who experienced the restorative power of music, provides a loaner guitar to each new student while each individual chapter recruits its own volunteers to give the instruction.

Wilson, a longtime musician, offered his services and called on two additional musicians, his friend Bob Hout, also a veteran who served on three deployments, and son Dakota Wilson to provide the lessons.

“It’s my honor,” Hout says. “Playing music gives me a sense of calmness.  And to me I believe that every veteran would benefit from a sense of calmness.”

“If you feel lost or confused play the guitar. It’s soothing and when people get out of the military, they may need something to aim toward and that something can be playing the guitar,” explained Dakota Wilson who plays multiple instruments and is part of the rock band After Midnight.

The program provides ten free lessons which culminate in a recital and the gift of a new acoustic guitar from the organization. So far six veteran residents at the VFW National Home are receiving guitar instruction and are set for an April recital to show off their newly acquired skills.

“I have seen the veteran that I’m teaching have a smile of contentment and accomplishment when he plays his guitar and recognizes what he’s playing,” remarked Hout who has performed acoustic shows with Mike Wilson since 1989.

2023-24 MOC Supreme Commander and MOCA Supreme President Special Project

While the Guitars for Vets Program just began this year, Rhonda Kennedy took a seat at the piano 40 years ago at the VFW National Home.

Through the years, hundreds of National Home kids have received piano instruction from Kennedy who learned the piano after many years of lessons as a child and plays piano and organ at the First Baptist Church of Eaton Rapids.

Rhonda Kennedy during a National Home piano recital.

The 2023-24 MOC Supreme Commander and MOCA Supreme President’s special project will be raising

funds to cover the expense of the 23 full-sized keyboards recently purchased. “We want to give a special thank you to the Military Order of the Cooties!” says Kennedy.

“Last year I had nine students and this year I have 24!” says Kennedy who has worked as a fulltime administrative assistant at the Home since 1983, teaching piano in the evenings.

While early pianos wore out and were removed from the homes through the years the need for replacements went unmet until now. The gifted keyboards allow each piano student to have a keyboard to practice on in between lessons.

“One of my students learned the wedding march to play at his parents’ wedding,” she remarked.

Even Drum Lessons

One additional musical instrument acquisition included a drum kit. This came after one of Kennedy’s piano students expressed an interest in drums and began practicing on a ragtag set of mismatched drum pieces discovered in the music room.

Kennedy recruited National Home Facilities Director Todd Marriott, an experienced drummer, to provide the lessons to the young man who also received a practice pad to use at his home on campus.

“He’s doing fantastic,” says Marriott. “He’s only had four lessons and he’s learning so quickly and engaged and excited each time I meet with him.”

Marriott agrees in the therapeutic nature of music calling it soothing and uplifting.

Accomplished musician Brian Lorente, who serves as the Veteran and Family Resource Manager at the National Home, works to encourage music programs on campus. In addition to helping Kennedy select the keyboards and drum set, he has worked to upgrade audio equipment for higher quality performances in the community center.

“Music is an important avenue of expression and focus and something to take your mind off everyday stresses,” says Lorente.

Wilson adds, “It’s clinically proven that music and the art of making music is therapeutic. It is a huge advantage to teach music and create that recreational therapy for adults and children.”

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