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Marshall professor, student 'giving back' to veterans

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A Marshall University associate professor and senior music education major are giving back to local veterans.

Julio Alves, associate professor, and Jonathan Thorne, a senior music education major, are doing so through the Guitars for Vets (G4V) program at the VA Medical Center in Spring Valley.

Guitars for Vets is a federally registered 501(C)(3) not-for-profit founded in 2007 and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through the program, local vets are taught how to play guitar by volunteers such as Alves and Thorne.

“It’s a great opportunity to give back to those who have served the country so bravely,” Alves said. “And, it is an opportunity for John and others to develop even further.”

G4V operates more than 40 chapters in more than 20 states and has in excess of 150 volunteers. G4V is dedicated to sharing the healing power of music with veterans suffering from significant combat-related mental and emotional stress, particularly post-traumatic stress.

Guitars for Vets pursues its mission by providing free, private guitar instruction, a practice guitar, accessories and a method book in a structured program run by volunteers primarily through the VA facilities.

Dave Ball is a veteran who is participating in the program.

“Personally, I’ve been trying to play for 12 or 13 years,” Ball said. “With Jonathan’s instruction, it’s been coming a whole lot easier. It’s a good hobby to have, I just really enjoy it. I like country music. That’s the good thing about Jonathan, he can adapt to teach you whatever your interest is.”

Melissa Stillwell, who, as chapter coordinator, heads up the local G4V program, said it takes 12 weeks of instruction for a student to graduate. Then, the organization gives him or her a new guitar, a new stand, new picks, a new gig bag, strap, tuner and strings. Thus far, Guitars for Vets has given more than 20,000 lessons and distributed more than 2,000 new guitars to veterans.

“This really is a fantastic way to get people interested in playing music,” Thorne said. “Playing guitar gives you something to take your mind off of your daily troubles. Music is such a great thing; it’s like an escapism where you can get away from the bad parts of the world for a while.”

Veteran Tim Burton described the program as “sweet.”

“It’s very nice. It gives you a hobby, if you don’t have one already,” he said.

Each chapter is encouraged to do some fundraising to help pay for the equipment. However, donations are welcome, and can be made through www.guitarsforvets.org. Or, persons may send a check payable to Guitars for Vets to: Guitars for Vets Processing Center, 11933 W. Burleigh St., Wauwatosa, WI 53222, or call 1-855-G4V-HERO/1-855-448-4376 for more information.