Community of Camaraderie

Most people have experienced a degree of trauma in their life, and some of these traumas can leave a lasting impact and change their behavior. When you serve in the military, exposure to various traumas can lead to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) While there are many ways to cope, one nonprofit was founded to provide veterans with an instrument to form camaraderie through the power of music. 

In 2007, musician Patrick Nettesheim and Vietnam veteran Dan Van Buskirk founded Guitars for Vets in Milwaukee after seeing a need to provide support for veterans struggling from symptoms of PTSD. Eric Weinstein began volunteering as an instructor in 2011 after reading about the nonprofit in a Chicago publication, where he resides. “I know first-hand how therapeutic music is for me, particularly guitars,” he said. Seeing the potential in Guitars for Vets, Weinstein leveraged his skills and became the organization’s executive director in 2012.

Whether it is isolation or a loss of community, the organization helps veterans re-enter their lives and feel a part of something whole. The program consists of one-on-one instruction over 10 weeks of guitar lessons. Aside from picking up a new skill, the course helps form a bond between the instructor and student and bring veterans into the Guitars for Vets community. Boasting an environment that not only provides a tool for veterans but also ensures their wishes are met through lessons is key to the equation, Weinstein said.

Veterans are referred into the program either through the Veterans Affairs (VA) or a healthcare provider. Upon completion of the 10-week course, students graduate and are gifted with their own guitar and accessory kit packed with strings, cables, and picks. Graduates are then invited back to future group sessions to retain engagement in chapter activity, and some even go on to perform at events or become volunteers themselves. “The objective is to find new ways to reach these people and have them experience what we have to offer,” Weinstein said. “Hopefully we can provide them with tools they can use in their battle against PTSD or other injuries they’re fighting.”

With over 120 locations nationwide, the nonprofit’s Omaha chapter thrives as one of the country’s most prosperous sites. Air Force veteran Peggy Ullom is the National Development Director and Nebraska Chapter Coordinator. She said having a team that mainly consists of veterans helps the Omaha chapter exhibit the patience, acceptance, gratitude, and empathy needed to establish trust with their students’ unique needs.

The chapter also partners with several other local nonprofits that provide basic human needs. “It isn’t just one person or a couple of people that make Omaha special; it truly is a special community that has committed to the well-being of our veterans and their families,” Ullom said. “We live to be the example, not the exception, for other communities and chapters.”

Both her chapter and other local nonprofits are trying to accomplish the same task: minimize the 22-a-day statistic, which is the average number of veterans who die daily by suicide. “Our community does not hesitate to have our back when we fundraise or throw out a request for assistance,” Ullom said.

By believing in the power of music, Weinstein said his team can create an experience that everyone involved will find truly beneficial. If you’re looking to give back, help those who have served you, enjoy music, or are a guitar player who understands the power of the guitar, Weinstein said this is the opportunity to help those who have helped you.

“We’re not therapists, and we’re not trying to create the next ‘Guitar Hero,’ Weinstein said. “You do learn guitar, but it’s much more about camaraderie, relationship-building, and feeling a sense of accomplishment while learning to play an instrument. The instrument is an added benefit to the experience.”

Weinstein thanks the people in the Omaha community who have been supporters of Guitars for Vets for many years. He said the team hopes to meet more people who share the same passion over the years. For information on Guitars for Vets and its mission, visit
guitars4vets.org. If you are interested in volunteering in Omaha, email
ne.omaha@guitarsforvets.org.

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