Bruce Springsteen once said the best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.
That sentiment couldn’t ring truer than it does now, nearly one year into a global pandemic that has many young people looking for an outlet for their creativity and a way to connect.
Marcy Baldry and Randy Parson launched Guitars to Kids — a non-profit organization that collects and refurbishes used guitars and provides them free of charge to youth in the Simcoe-Muskoka region in the fall of 2020 — and to date have gifted more than 50 guitars.
Baldry, a self-described “music nut” who has been working in the non-profit sector in Simcoe County for 20 years, said the pair came across similar organizations in Toronto and Cambridge and decided they wanted to bring something similar to Barrie.
“My background is community, and my partner Randy is a musician. He’s an investment advisor by day and rock star by night. It just made for a good pairing for the two of us and checked all the boxes for us of kids, community and music. It was everything we could’ve hoped for,” she said.
They approached the founders of the existing programs and expressed interest in starting something similar here, Baldry said.
“We felt our region could use something like this, especially in a pandemic. They were thrilled and shared what they learned and their successes … and we jumped right in.”
The mandate of Guitars to Kids is to give guitars to children, teens and young adults that want to learn how to play and may not have the capacity to purchase an instrument for themselves, she said. Applicants simply need to submit a request online and the organization will do their best to outfit them with either an acoustic, bass or electric guitar free of charge.
All guitars have been donated by members of the community, she said, and the organization is entirely volunteer-driven.
“We have been very fortunate. We have some people that have purchased new equipment and donated that to the program and many of the instruments have been secondhand. We have a partnership with Gilbert Guitars to get them refurbished before they’re distributed,” she said.
Kids get fully outfitted with a tuner, a strap — an amp if the unit needs one. A volunteer is also providing applicants with 10 online guitar lessons.
“Music is just such a healthy outlet and this gives them an opportunity to learn something new, which is never a bad thing. Our hopes are that a child would choose to have a guitar in the hand instead of a gaming system and learn a new skill," Baldry said.
Parsons knows the power music can have on someone's life and is excited to be able to pass that passion along to local kids.
“I bought my first bass guitar in 1978, so I’ve been playing music for more than 40 years. It was the best $200 that I ever spent,” he said, adding his passion for music has provided him with many great adventures and the opportunities throughout his life. “I believe that providing guitars to kids will give young people the chance to discover a creative outlet for the rest of their lives.
"Hopefully, this opportunity leads to a wealth of musical adventures and friendships for them. But it’s also OK just to have fun learning an instrument… and we will find them an instrument!”
Shelly Skinner’s oldest child, 14-year-old Jade, recently received a bass guitar from Guitars to Kids after Skinner came across the organization on social media. After researching the organization, Skinner decided to submit an application and was impressed with how simple the whole process was.
“To be able to give a gift like that of music, especially during COVID times, to a student and somebody who may love music but may not have the access based on various circumstances — but often financial — is one of the biggest gifts,” Skinner said.
While Skinner said Jade had played keyboard and ukulele in the past, the Barrie mom said her teenager wanted to gain more knowledge and get more involved in music.
“In school, they can’t even do music class inside due to COVID. It’s just so sad. I think to myself, (music) is such an incredible outlet and is so needed for artists to be able to speak their truths or share their stories. Music is often the only way to do that when you’re that young," Skinner said.
Skinner says she is happy to see so many community members stepping up to support their neighbours.
“They didn’t ask for my income — it didn’t matter. To them, it’s just about giving the gift of music to children and that kind of freedom of philanthropy is something that truly speaks to me," she said.
Guitars to Kids has also recently partnered with New Path Youth and Family Services to help get guitars into the hands of youth in the New Path Live-In Treatment Services (LITS) program.
“I’ve been working with youth in the LITS program for over 13 years. In that time, I’ve seen first-hand that playing, practising and learning an instrument is a game changer for youth. It allows them to be themselves, gives them an emotional outlet, and enables relationships to develop and flourish,” said Scott Stratton, a child and youth worker at New Path. “It’s such a positive way for youth to express themselves.”
The LITS program works intensively with youth 12 to 18 years of age and their families who are experiencing social, emotional and behavioural problems and require and intensive 24-hour therapeutic setting.
“We’ve seen the positive effects that learning to play instruments has on the mental health of youth at New Path’s live-in treatment. Scott has done an amazing job teaching them how to play instruments and write songs,” said Gord Bain, manager of clinical services at New Path. “The donation of guitars will allow for Scott to share this experience with even more youth in the future. We are so appreciative of this incredible donation.”