River City Studios Has Opportunity to Give Back to Neighbors at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

After 40 years in the audio production and design industry, it is time for River City Studios to humbly thank the community that has supported and encouraged us on this wonderful and rewarding journey.

We are excited to move even further into this ever changing world of audio, but we felt we needed to make a statement of gratitude first.

River City Studios has been looking for opportunities to give back to the community. We recently reached out to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans to use our knowledge of audio and engineering to make a positive difference, and we were pointed to the group Guitars 4 Vets (G4V).

G4V is a national group that was founded by Patrick Nettesheim in 2007. Nettesheim, a Milwaukee guitar instructor, was introduced to Vietnam-era Marine, Dan Van Buskirk. For years, Van Buskirk wanted to learn to play guitar but felt the lasting effects of combat, in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), would make it difficult for him to succeed. After only a few months of working together, both men realized that guitar lessons provided opportunities for self-expression and positive human interaction. Nettesheim and VanBuskirk shared what they learned with veterans at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center and G4V was born.

The Grand Rapids G4V meet at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. The group is managed by David Kirvan, a Vietnam veteran and guitar enthusiast. Kirvan heard about the program five years ago, and he decided to donate a few of his guitars. Kirvan said, “after that I never left.”  Kirvan explained that he was drafted into the Army while a senior at Western Michigan University after dropping a class. After becoming a medic, he bought a guitar from another Marine, who was heading home, for five dollars. During his free time, Kirvan and other soldiers would practice playing their guitars.

“A lot of the students are Vietnam vets, but we get more and more Middle East Vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.” Kirvan explained, “The youngest Veterans are in their 20s, but there’s one WW2 Vet who fought in Iwo Jima.” Kirvan is not an authority figure, he is one of the group, but manages the instructors and students. “We teach people basic chords, it’s more about accompaniment than lead guitar. We choose a song from a book we all have and all play it together.”

Volunteers provide the weekly guitar lessons. Each lesson is individualized and designed to help students learn at their own pace. These sessions offer veterans a communal atmosphere to play music with peers who have shared similar experiences.

When we asked if there was anything the group needed Kirvan replied, “We need more guitar instructors.”

  River City Studios doesn’t provide guitar instructors, but we want to let the community know that this need exists.

G4V could not exist without the volunteers who selflessly give of their time and energy. According to Kirvan, a volunteer named Sonya volunteers at least 40 hours a week. Two years ago, she won the National Hospital Volunteer Award through The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). She also runs a store in the Veterans Home where people donate clothing and everything is free to the residents. Sonya is on the committee for LZ Michigan (LZ Michigan, led by WGVU Public Media, is a “Landing Zone” to Remember, Honor, and Celebrate our community’s veterans and their families), which is how she learned about G4V.

Dave Zimmerman, a volunteer and resident of the Home for Veterans, after seven years of volunteering was just awarded with the National Hospital Volunteer of the Year Award. Both are charming and genuinely care about the people at the Home.

Sonya wants people to know, “The staff, nurses, caregivers are great. The members need more one on one. They could use more volunteers to get the members out once in a while. That’s what I just did. From the Dementia ward, I got two guys out for the Guitar club.”

Sitting in a large circle around rectangular tables, G4V plays songs together on their guitars. Every guitar is provided to each veteran free by the G4V program.

Just as we were about to say that we had no idea how we could benefit the group, Sonya mentions that they have a graduation on the last Wednesday of the month. The graduates play a song and receive a certificate then everyone plays together until the group ends.

When River City Studios asked to record the graduation the G4V group was confused about why anyone would ever want to do this for them. There was interest, however, and everyone liked the idea of having a CD made of the group playing.

On the night of the graduation, we set up four microphones around the group and there was a charge in the air. Jokes were made and there was a sense of pride and comradery that inspired joy. We were bringing an experience to the men and woman of the group and felt lucky to do so.

On top of just doing a recording, River City Studios also took pictures of the event and created a slide show with some of the songs we recorded over it.

On October 11, we presented the members of the G4V group with their own copy of their recorded guitar session and a link to see themselves and the group put to the music.

The slideshow is available following this article.

We want to say thank you to the G4V group for letting us join them and be their audience, and thank you to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for allowing us to haul our equipment in and get to know some of the staff, volunteers, and veterans. We now see what is needed: people who are willing to be an audience and can enjoy the company of a veteran with a story.

We can all be giving more to our Veterans and we see that in giving we too receive something extraordinary. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans contact Deanna Reames at 616-364-5331 or reamesd@michigan.gov.