Source: Faith Bemiss | Democrat
One Missouri couple is promoting music as a way to help military veterans cope with Post Traumatic Stress through a nonprofit organization they founded called The Healing Box Project.
The motto for Dave and CJ Dunklee, of Gravois Mills, is “The guitar is the box, the healing begins with the first strum.” Beginning last January, Dave, who has a masters degree in music from the University of Missouri-Columbia, started teaching free guitar classes twice a day each Tuesday at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia.
Dave and CJ were at the Missouri State Fair on Saturday. Dave played his electric guitar and sang in front of the Voiture 333, 40 & 8 French Boxcar near the Home Economics Building to raise awareness of the project. The Dunklee’s accept donations and with these donations they buy guitars to give to disabled vets free of charge. To date they have given away approximately 80 guitars. The average cost to purchase each acoustic guitar runs between $250 to $275.
After playing at a few sets at the MSF Saturday, Dave told the Democrat the project “is about the veterans.”
“It’s not about us,” he noted. “We decided that since I could play music, and she knew how to do fundraising, we worked together to get our 501(c)(3) status. But, as a public charity service we’ve been giving guitars now for four years.”
The couple’s journey of helping veterans began more than four years ago at Fort Leonard Wood.
CJ said Saturday that several years ago they saw a commercial with country singer Toby Keith representing Wounded Warriors.
“My husband made the remark, ‘I could do something like that,’” she said. “I said, ‘then why don’t we?’”
They weren’t comfortable working through Wounded Warriors, and decided to form their own nonprofit organization.
“We actually started in Fort Leonard Wood at the Warrior Transition Unit,” she noted. “But as you know the government downsized and cutback and they closed that beautiful unit. So, the men and women that are disabled now they go to Fort Riley (Kansas) and different places. They do their paperwork, they send them home and they have to go through the VA.”
She said before the unit closed they were contacted by Truman VA Special Programs Coordinator Chris Longdon. They met with Longdon and his supervisor and were approved to host the program at the Truman VA Hospital.
“We didn’t miss a beat,” CJ said. “We went right from Fort Leonard Wood, right to the VA. We go every Tuesday.”
CJ said giving guitars to disabled veterans is in appreciation for the their service.
“It’s theirs to keep,” she added.
She said working with veterans this way makes her feel “great.”
“Just to see the smiles on their faces, it’s really neat,” she added. “When they get into it and when they’re playing, I mean is just great. It doesn’t take long, my husband can teach them to play a chord within five minutes.”
Dave has written a music book, “The Bogey Man Guitar Method,” that he uses for the classes. The book takes in beginner through advance students.
U.S. Navy Seabee veteran Ted Koetzle, of Hartsville, was at the MSF with his PTS service dog Silver Saturday. For the last three months he’s driven 142 miles each Tuesday to take guitar lessons with Dave Dunklee at the VA. He enjoys learning.
“I’m a beginner, I’ve never played before,” he said. “I’m a little slower than the rest of the class.”
Jim Gaertner, of Sedalia, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, has been taking lessons since March. He said it’s not often that a gifted musician can also be a gifted instructor. He’s pleased with how well Dave teaches and the patience he demonstrates for his students.
“He’s a really good teacher, whatever level you’re at he can reach you,” he noted.
Gaertner, who played lead guitar in a band, The Norsemen, before joining the military, found after returning from Vietnam he’d lost his ability to play. His musical skill lay dormant for decades.
“When I came back, I was frustrated,” he said. “I don’t know if it was physical, I don’t know if it was mental, psychological or a combination, but I tried to play and my hands just would not do what my brain was telling them to do.”
Because of this he “got rid” of all his equipment and his guitar, believing he’d never play again. The Healing Box Project has opened a new door for Gaertner.
“I’ve slowly been regaining some of the skills,” he said. “It’s something to look forward to and something to enjoy.”
Dave said he has 24 students in his classes at the Truman VA Hospital.
“When we got there the size of the participation doubled,” he added.
He too enjoys seeing the faces of the veterans as they learn to play.
“It’s very heartwarming,” he said. “We give an individual a guitar and a case and say, ‘this is yours.’ It’s the looks on their faces, that’s why we are doing this.”
Dave said he hopes to soon have a small concert at the Truman VA Hospital. He added that there are veterans on the third floor who can’t go home due to medical conditions.
“We have about six guitar players and six singers that have volunteered from those classes to go and play for them,” he said.
Dave has made a CD called “Double D.” He said 100 hundred percent of the proceeds from the CD goes back into The Healing Box Project.
For more information on The Healing Box Project, contact Dave and CJ Dunklee at [email protected] or 573-372-1234 or visit www.TheHealingBoxProject.com.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.