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Healing strum: Guitars for Vets provides free lessons

In a small room with a few chairs, a TV and a chessboard and table in the back of the Norwich Vets Center last week, Larry McLean gave a guitar lesson.

It may not seem like much, recognizing and identifying frets and chords, but for the veterans who are taking the lesson, it means a lot.

McLean is coordinator for the Norwich chapter of Guitars for Vets, a national nonprofit that offers guitar lessons for qualified veterans.

It could be any number of reasons that leads a veteran to McLean. A vet has to be referred by a counselor, for post trautmatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or something else, but once they are there, “every single one of them says it helps,” according to McLean.

McLean began his current pursuit with the help of Ray Arpin, who used to own a music store in Franklin, and, along with McLean, has found a new calling helping veterans with guitar lessons.

McLean and Arpin, both retired Air Force veterans who are doing this work as volunteers, helped form the Norwich chapter in February 2020, just before the world changed. They had to put the program on pause, but started again this May.

Nationally, Guitars for Vets has given over 40,000 lessons and handed out over 4,000 guitars. It has over 100 chapters in more than 40 states. It offers a unique therapeutic alternative for PTSD and other emotional distress.

Every veteran who successfully completes the program — 10 lessons — receives a new Yamaha acoustic guitar, along with an accessory bag.

The veterans in the program also get together at Arpin’s once a week for jam sessions, which soon may move to the Easter Seals facility in the Norwich Industrial Park.

“We’re not teaching them how to be a phenomenal guitar player, but how to get the benefit of playing, the healing value,” Arpin said. “And we want them to have some fun doing this, too.”

For more information visit or call the Norwich Vets Center at (860) 887-1755.



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