BEAUFORT, South Carolina – A local veteran’s goal to help his community has turned into a program that offers free tools and lessons.
Mike Ponderalong with some of his fellow musicians participating in the program, spoke to WSAV NOW to discuss the importance of such programs to the military community.
“Sometimes we’ll have 28 to 40 students on stage sitting and learning to play,” Ander said.
Last year, Ponder gave away more than $18,000 worth of free tools and lessons to members of the military community. Ponder directs SRE JAMS and also works with Operation Encore, a veteran music project.
Eligible community members must complete a total of at least 12 lessons over a six-month period to receive a free tool in the program. The lessons are free and the tool is also provided.
“The opportunity to learn something new with like-minded people is a great experience,” said Ryan Ile. “I mean, that’s always the most important part of whatever you do, especially when you’re in the Marine Corps.”
Ill came to the music scene as something he and his wife needed to do together and bring each other closer.
“No matter what your rank is, you know, the length of service varies from retirement to just a couple of years,” Ill said. “It’s a great experience.”
The rest of the present musicians agreed with this.
“It was my best way to decompress a really bad day,” Raven McCumber said. McCumber started the program playing the piano, but has now moved on to another form of music, singing.
“I always knew that every time I came to these jam sessions, I could always learn something, I always had a good laugh,” she explained. She recently changed, and it caused a lot of stress.
“I would always have someone I could talk to about it and just talk without fear of being judged.”
Ponder echoed the idea that the program is good for stress management.
“I’ve had a couple of sergeants come to me and they said it’s a big mental health time for them because they can de-stress,” Ponder said. “We leave rank at the door. You could come as a person, as a musician. You are never judged, regardless of your level.”
Ponder said these jam sessions aren’t just an opportunity to play music, it’s a time for people to talk about what they’ve been through and get mentorship.
“All kinds of things happen during these jams,” he said.
There were other reasons why the musicians enjoyed playing together.
“For me, it’s just the spontaneity of playing with Mike,” Andre Fanor said. “Honestly, it’s always a trial by fire. You either get it or you don’t.”
To learn more about Mike Ponder and his work, you can check out his website. You can learn more about Operation Encore is here.