Ben & I Play for Peace / Veterans Guitar Project
Ben & I Play for Peace was a four-year collaboration that supported our veterans, aided disabled Iraqi children, and honored the power of personal connection through music. The spirit of “Ben & I” lives on today in the personal work of many involved, and through the work of the Veterans Guitar Project in Austin, TX.
“Ben & I” was an annual National Concert event that encouraged people to use their talents to help others and honored those in our community who devote their lives to service. The project was a partnership between Ben (then a 14-year-old philanthropist and classical guitarist), Dr. Kim Perlak (guitarist and college professor), and their friends from across the nation. Our 2011 and 2012 concerts in Austin, Sarasota, Denver, and Seattle benefitted CNN Hero Brad Blauser’s non-profit Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids and the Wounded Warrior Project. These concerts raised more than $25,000.00 and were honored by the US House of Representatives. Our 2013 and 2014 concerts raised funds for the “Veterans Guitar Project,” a weekly guitar and songwriting class for veterans in Austin, TX, then-led by Kim, Lt Col (retired) Lynn Smith-Henry, and our musical colleague and friend – slide guitarist Kirby Kelley.
Ben and Kim met in the summer of 2010 at Yale professor Benjamin Verdery’s guitar retreat in Maui, HI. Inspired by young Ben’s ability to raise more than $18,000 for Brad’s charity by performing in front of his neighborhood coffee shop, Kim set up a concert in Austin to help his cause. The idea was contagious. Kim’s American Pop Music History and Guitar students at Concordia University-TX agreed to make the concert planning a class project. Along with Lt Col (retired) Lynn Smith-Henry, Kim created a group for her guitar students who were military veterans, and they began to meet weekly to support each other and rehearse to perform in the concerts. Local and national businesses became sponsors, and television and radio stations in Austin provided publicity. Kim’s friends, professional musicians in Sarasota, Denver, and Seattle, set up “sister city” concerts to help. Together, these efforts helped Ben break a personal fundraising mark of $50,000.00 – making him the largest single donor to Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids, and impacting the lives of our American Veterans.
Today, the spirit of “Ben & I” is strong in the Veterans Guitar Project, based in Austin, TX. Still led by Lynn Smith-Henry, this group of veterans includes several original members, and continues to welcome new members. The group meets twice a week to play and write music and to support one another. The Veterans Guitar Project has found a home at the Armstrong Community Music School, and is supported by a grant from the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans Assistance and private donations.
For more information on the Veterans Guitar Project classes and performances, and to donate, please visit acmsaustin.org
For more information on the history of “Ben & I", visit benandiplayforpeace.com