By Haley Shapely
Music has a way of bringing people together, which Mary and Jim Corriveau learned firsthand. The high school sweethearts met in band class, so it’s only fitting that the two are responsible for introducing the musically-minded Guitars for Vets (G4V) program to Watertown, N.Y., and the Fort Drum community.
The national organization was founded to provide guitar instruction to veterans struggling with physical injuries, PTSD and other emotional distress. After the first lesson, students receive a practice guitar to take home. Upon completing 10 lessons, graduates are gifted with a kit that includes digital tuners, strings, foot stools, lesson books, music stands, picks and, best of all, a brand-new guitar.
“The guitar is an instrument where you get very personal,” Jim Corriveau said. “You sit there and wrap your arms around it, and when you pluck the strings and those vibrations come out of it, they go right into your chest and your brain.”
Jim, a veteran with 30 years of military service, is one of the volunteer instructors, while Mary serves as the chapter coordinator. They launched their chapter in November 2017, and so far, the response from the community has been fantastic.
One of the early supporters was Carl McLaughlin, who purchased a gift card for a guitar. He likes that he can see his donation at work, immediately making a difference. “It doesn’t matter how good you become, it’s the fact that you were successful and got recognized for that success,” he said.
Guitars for Vets also captured the attention of the high school students who make up the Youth Philanthropy Council, a committee of the Northern New York Community Foundation. After the Corriveaus applied for a grant, the council awarded them $2,000.
“The students were really enamored by the whole music therapy aspect,” said Emily Sprague, an adviser to the council. “They love the fact that a guitar that they bought will go home with a vet after the course is completed and that guitar will stay with them for years, giving joy and comfort.”
Lou Briant loved the program so much he not only donated to it — he participated as well. The Vietnam veteran plays his guitar at least two hours daily and has found it’s a great outlet for venting frustrations. “Whatever genre you like, whether it’s country, classical, pop or whatever, you can find a tune that’s going to make you feel good,” he said. “It gives you something to work on, and it makes your time more productive.”
With generous donations of practice space, equipment and expertise, the Watertown chapter of G4V is helping veterans find healing, one guitar strum at a time.
“We had one of our graduates get up and say that until he started in this program, he couldn’t remember the last time he smiled,” Mary said. “His spouse was there and she agreed and nodded her head. This is a lifelong gift that the veterans are getting from the community, from G4V, from the local and national sponsors, and it really is changing their lives.”
Guitars for Vets (G4V) is a national nonprofit co-founded by Milwaukee guitar instructor Patrick Nettesheim and Vietnam-era Marine Dan Van Buskirk.
Photo caption: Music students bring their children to a Guitar to Vets class. Mary Corriveau, chapter coordinator for Watertown, N.Y., has seen an increase in families attending the music classes together.
Photo by Mary Corriveau
Haley Shapely is a freelance writer who grew up in a military town of Bremerton, Wash. She’s contributed to more than 100 publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, American Profile and MOAA.org on topics ranging from travel to health to sustainability