Guitars For Vets: Helping Our Soldiers Through Music Therapy

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Guitars 4 Vets is a national organization, that just had a Flagler County Chapter open up. Earl Presley, a veteran himself, stepped up to see a chapter open up here in Palm Coast. They currently work out of the DAV off of Florida Park Drive. The goal of this organization is to help combat the veteran suicide rate, by providing vets with a musical outlet and comradery. Guitars 4 Vets feels that music is a great therapeutic tool and has helped countless vets all over the country to manage their PTSD and other issues through musical outlets.  We sat down with Earl Presley to find out more about this organization, their services and the how and why he ultimately decided to get involved and spearhead this project.

Earl talked about how he is a retired minister, musician  and teacher. He had a medical event about 3 years ago; he had three holes in his stomach and was bleeding out. He went through three surgeries and ten blood transfusions in four days. He talked about how when he woke up he questioned how he was still here, how he could feel himself dying in that ambulance just days before. Being a retired minister, he knew there was a reason he was still here; after this event was when he ran across the organization Guitars 4 Vets. The mission statement for this organization is: To combat the suicide rate through musical therapy. He knew this was what he was still here to do. This is all what led to Earl starting the process and getting a Palm Coast chapter up and going. The Palm Coast Guitars 4 Vets chapter already has about 8 students and they base themselves out of the DAV.

While there is an existing infrastructure in the area, in the way of the DAV, the other military clubs like the VFW, etc., but there are not many programs available. Earl spoke to the pressing need of losing 22 vets a day to suicide, and how there needs to be more done to handle that specific need. That is where Guitars 4 Vets comes in by offering a different type of therapy/counseling to help those vets who suffer from things like PTSD and need a therapeutic outlet.

We asked Earl how the vets inspire him to keep going, “The vets are inspiring to be around. In my teaching career and ministry career, I have dealt with a lot of mental illness, and I have done a lot of counseling. I feel called to do this. Here is something that I can do, that I am uniquely qualified to do. I enjoy the comradery of the vets. I have one student who has been through alcohol rehab, drug rehab, he’s clean, he has pretty severe PTSD, he don’t even like to come out of the house. But he will come to a guitar lesson, and the goal is to get him comfortable enough to perform. If we can get him to that, then that is really working on the PTSD.”

We talked about the goals of this organization. Earl talked about how his main goal right now is to get the chapter up and going. He is working on getting teachers ready to take on students.  Ultimately Earl said that his goal is to be only handling the evaluations of teachers and students, meaning he would have enough teachers to teach the students.  The program offered by Guitars 4 Vets, gives students 10 free lessons with a teacher. If they complete their ten lessons and finish the program the student receives a free guitar, case, strap and other supplies. The students can then contain private lessons at whatever the rate the teacher charges, or they can go to the monthly group lessons for free indefinitely. Earl really just wants this to be functionally up and running as soon as possible; ultimately, the long term goals are to have the chapter be self-sustaining and set up so that the reigns can be passed off to someone else.

Working with the vets, teaching, counseling, running an organization, these are all things that can be challenging; so we asked Earl what some of the biggest challenges are to this program and working with the vets. “The biggest challenge is probably the scheduling. Being able to do a lesson when someone can do a lesson. Some of them are working, some are not.  If someone comes in 70% disabled because of PTSD, and they are still working, then that means a lesson after 5pm or on a Saturday. Making sure we maintain accessibility, and we don’t compromise  their needs is really important to me and probably the biggest challenge.”

We asked Earl what is the most rewarding part of what he does, “When you’re teaching somebody and the lights come on. You have to find out how people learn and when it is complicated with things like PTSD and mental illness and that kind of stuff. It is more of a challenge to find out what is going to work. To me that is the best part.”

We asked how Earl plans to impact Flagler County with the Guitars 4 Vets program. “If I keep one guy from committing suicide, I am a success. That is the stated goal of the organization.  The organization was started in Wisconsin by two guys who are vets, who started playing guitar and they thought it really helped them and stuff so they got the idea of starting this thing. They got Gary Sinise involved and his foundation supported a lot of it in the beginning, now we got a lot of people supporting it. It is a really great nationwide program that is started for all the right reasons. I think it will be a success, and we won’t ever know, but if one doesn’t commit suicide because of that program then it is worth doing.”

Lastly we asked Earl how the community could support this organization and their mission and one of the biggest ways is to talk it up. Earl asked that people share this organization, and tell people about it so that vets know it exists. Chance Gardner, who owns a music shop in Bunnell, is a drop off point for those who wish to donate musical equipment like guitars to the organization. The Guitars 4 Vets will be hosting fundraisers in the future where people can support the organization as well.  In order to reach out to the local chapter here in Palm Coast, you can email Earl at fl.palmcoast@guitarsforvets.org.

By Krys DeWind

Krys DeWind has been a Flagler County resident since 2016. She is active in her community and is always looking for ways to better it. She has a community first attitude which is one of the central founding ideals of the Flagler County Buzz.

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