GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every Wednesday night inside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, there’s healing happening and music is the medicine.
You could say Marc DeRuiter is the doctor and his prescription is Guitars for Vets.
“The whole thing of Guitars for Vets is ‘the healing power of music for heroes.’ It restores joy,” DeRuiter said.
He doesn’t know how to read music. He just plays by ear.
“Music has been very therapeutic to me, as well. You know, it’s my own personal therapy,” he told News 8.
There are more than 80 Guitars for Vets chapters across the country. Ten years ago, DeRuiter started the one at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, teaching the residents how to play.
“Being able to play and sing a song is really something a lot of people have always wanted to do and this gives them an opportunity to do that,” DeRuiter said.
The program uses donated guitars to teach. After 10 weeks of lessons, each veteran gets a brand new guitar for free.
“It’s half about the guitars and it’s half about the camaraderie,” DeRuiter said.
DeRuiter believes in the healing power of music so much that he has also taken it into memory care centers across Kent County as part of a nonprofit he created called ElderMusic.
His generosity has earned him an honor: He was chosen as one of this year’s Senior Neighbors’ 16 Over 60 Awards.
Bob Barnes, president at Senior Neighbors, said those who give back in their golden years are not only helping others, but also helping themselves.
“It’s the best thing for them. It keeps you healthy. The best way to age well is to stay active and to be involved in giving and to have a purpose and there’s not greater purpose than serving other people,” Barnes said.
The Wednesday night jam sessions at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans on the city’s northeast side aren’t about the talent, the tune or the tenor.
“People actually do feel better after they sing,” DeRuiter said.
Perhaps a mentor of DeRuiter said it best:
“‘Son, your music doesn’t cure me but it sure makes me feel better.’ And I thought that really speaks volumes,” he recalled.
The Senior Neighbors 16 Over 60 Awards Gala will be held Wednesday at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park east of Grand Rapids.
Anyone wishing to get involved with ElderMusic can reach out to DeRuiter via email.