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Guitars for Vets program hitting the right notes

Community Engagement News Release Jan 30, 2024

Jeremy Linton Jeremy LintonGuitars for Vets is a national music therapy program that serves veterans who are experiencing complications from physical injuries, PTSD, or other related emotional distress. Jeremy Linton, professor and department chair of the IU South Bend School of Education’s counseling and human services department, started the local chapter of Guitars for Vets in 2021.

Each participant receives ten guitar lessons, and anyone who completes all ten gets a free guitar at the end. There are currently three instructors: Linton himself, and local guitarists Randy Whiteman and John Uplinger. Linton only took up the guitar during the Covid lockdown, so he remembers the awkward first steps quite well.

“It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re first starting on guitar, so we try to make sure everything stays relaxed, low-key, no pressure,” Linton said. “After all, it’s only ten lessons, so nothing can get too difficult.”

Now that the local chapter of Guitars for Vets is on solid footing, Linton has initiated a faculty research project to evaluate the progress thus far. Linton will assess the program with help from two colleagues from counseling and human services, associate professor Joseph Campbell and visiting assistant professor Kurt Hanus.

“In this first phase, we’re looking to identify some of the primary benefits of being an instructor in the program,” Linton said.

Primarily, this involves Linton, Campbell, and Hanus gathering information about the general kinds of experiences the instructors are having with the veterans, as well as specific details about what kinds of instructional techniques are working the best.

Keith Ross, veteran outreach specialist at the South Bend Vet Center, is the liaison who takes referrals and pairs them with the instructors. The response has been sufficiently robust that there is currently a six-month waiting list, and the team is on the lookout to add a fourth instructor.

The vets choose their own pace. There are no expectations that they need to read music. Just learning a few chords to strum can lead to a satisfying sense of relaxation.

“Some of the students have immediately started putting in a lot of time practicing and grinding it out, getting pretty good. Other students are only doing it once a week at the lesson. We don’t judge them at all,” Linton said. “We’re just getting them the chance to try this.”

There are hopes of an informal, once-a-month jam session in the future, but for now the focus is on the one-on-one lessons. Nevertheless, a loose community is already forming.

“We’re two and a half years into this, so we just put together our first reunion picnic. We had about ten vets and their families come out, and the instructors were there,” Linton said. “We’re hoping to do more of that kind of community-building.”

For more information about the Guitars for Vets program, visit guitars4vets.org. To find out more about the South Bend chapter, visit the South Bend Vet Center or email in.southbend@guitarsforvets.org.

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