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Successful veterans guitar building workshop fosters camaraderie, job skills


Local U.S. military veterans gathered at Edmonds Community College over Veterans Day weekend for a three-day workshop to learn to design and build electric guitars –– from scratch.

Veterans with their newly-built guitars

Local veterans attended a three-day guitar building workshop at Edmonds CC. Photo credit: James Huntington Cordero

“What made it so successful was the way it brought veterans together in much the same way as we came together in the military,” said Chris Szarek, executive director of the Edmonds CC Veterans Resource Center (VRC). “Like any cohesive unit, we had a mutual shared challenge and bonded through it.”

The Nov. 9-11 workshop brought together 13 veterans, including four Edmonds CC student veterans. Szarek dubbed the group “Operation Twang.”

“It was rewarding to see the guitar take shape, and the teamwork that went into the builds from instructors to other veterans helping each other,” said André Turner, U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Edmonds CC VetCorps navigator.

The workshop was fully funded by The National STEM Guitar Project through a National Science Foundation grant. Workshop partners included the Edmonds CC VRC, Phoenix Patriot Foundation, and Wounded Warrior Project. It was held in the National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education, or MatEDU lab, which is housed on the Edmonds CC campus. In 2011, the college hosted a similar workshop for teachers.

Dipping the guitars into swirling paint

Edmonds CC student and veteran Reyse Tabares dips his guitar into swirling paint. Tabares is currently serving in the Army National Guard. Photo credit: James Huntington Cordero

During the workshop, veterans sanded, sculpted, and swirl painted their guitars. They also used a laser cutter to etch their own custom-designed images into the guitars. By the end of the weekend, each had a custom, playable electric guitar.

While the workshop focused on building the guitars, the goal was to engage veterans in STEM-centered learning to build confidence and job preparedness for re-entering the job market. The event also helps veterans who may be experiencing difficulty with the transition from military to civilian life along with providing future work skills, opportunities, and community engagement.

The workshop and the camaraderie will continue in December when veterans return to put the finishing touches on their guitars and learn some basic chords.

“We’ll get to reunite, fine-tune our instruments, and jam together,” Szarek said. He noted that many of those who have served in the military tend to take a step back from military life after active duty.

“A lot of us, myself included, take a break to figure out who we are as civilians,” Szarek said, “but when you’re ready to come back you’ll find a lot of good and supportive veterans at Edmonds CC to welcome you back in the fold.”

Edmonds CC is a designated military friendly school. The Veterans Resource Center annually serves the needs of more than 200 Edmonds CC student veterans and their families by providing Veterans Affairs counseling and certification, an on-site mental health professional, career counseling, an inviting place to meet other veterans, and more.

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Laura Daniali