Sussex County Non-Profit Uses Guitar to Help Veterans - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Sussex County Non-Profit Uses Guitar to Help Veterans

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SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. - A Georgetown man is using guitar to give back to those who gave so much. 

Tom Baker founded "Frets for Vets," a 501(c)(3) that teaches veterans how to play guitar, with an emphasis on those who suffer from PTSD or depression. Any veteran with a valid DD-214 is eligible for the program, which includes sixteen weeks of lessons, a loaner guitar, a tablet with instruction software, and a weekly jam session taught by a guitar teacher who is a mental health therapist. Veterans can choose what type of music they'd like to learn to play, and can have as much or as little guitar experience as possible. Baker says all they ask is that the veterans have use of their hands, but if not, they will find them an instrument that requires less dexterity, such as a bass guitar. 

At the end of the semester, students get their own custom-made guitar, with a map of their last deployment etched on the instrument. Baker says the cost of all the materials averages about to $675 per student, but the veterans pay nothing.

"They did enough for our country," he says. "They don't need to pay anything."

Baker was inspired to start the program as he grew up in a military family and was making guitars for fun.

"My wife is a mental health counselor and she's seen a bunch of people with PTSD and depression and she thought it might be a good way to create a coping mechanism to help people get through in a positive experience and direction in life," he tells WBOC."I thought, 'I build guitars. I haven't sold any of these guitars, what can I do with them?' And I thought maybe I could teach people who mattered that needed it."

Baker started the non-profit last year, but had to shutter operations due to the costliness of incorporating as a 501(c)(3). But now they are back--with a wait list of over 109--and they plan to start their first semester of students this summer.

"[I'm] sad that it's needed, happy that it can be provided and hopeful that 22 veterans a day committing suicide goes down quickly," Baker muses.

Although "Frets for Vets" recently got a grant to teach the program at the Home of the Brave veterans homeless shelter in Milford, they want to keep fundraising so they can further expand their program. They're having a fundraiser concert on May 21st from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. at the American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro. Multiple bands are playing and donating their time to raise money for the program.

While they haven't even started yet, Baker says they've already spoken to American Legion commanders across the country to bring the program nationwide. They prefer students be seeing a mental health counselor in addition to the "Frets for Vets." 

"We're not a substitute for quality mental health but I guess you could say we're like the peanut butter with the jelly," Baker says. "They go really, really well together."

For more on Frets for Vets, visit their website

To buy fundraiser tickets, click here. 

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