July 04, 2012 - When folks head out to Seymour Lake Celebration July 6-7, they'll have a special opportunity not offered at any other summer festivals around here.
Make your way up to the sound stage and sit a spell while the entertainers from Jam for Vets (JFV) weave their magic.
Founded a couple years back by Matt Thomas, of Lake Orion, JFV is a not-for-profit endeavor to "enrich the lives of veterans in the VA hospital system by creating and executing a self-funded, comprehensive Music Services Program." They execute this mission through the services of about 20 bands playing musical styles that span almost any genre you can think of. Active coast-to-coast, JFV has operations in California, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia Maryland, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.
JFV enriches veterans in a number of ways. You'll hear them executing one mode of their mission when you listen on Friday and Saturday.
The dollars folks spend at the Seymour Celebration help fund a donation the Oxford Parks and Rec will give in lieu of payment for JFV's service.
You will hear bands in which veterans and civilians play music together; your appreciation and attention are only the most obvious of how you can assist JFV.
But the JFV assists veterans in other ways as well. As Thomas explained, "We've been playing classical and light jazz in the Detroit Dingell VA Medical Center atrium where the people . . . can sit and listen instead of spending four hours in a hospital waiting room."
In addition to that therapeutic outreach, JFV provides instruments, lessons, and an outlet to put the veterans together and play.
"Even if it never goes anywhere, that's not really the point. The point is to let them have an outlet under the supervision of the outpatient program proctored by the VA doctors."
The musical interaction helps reintegrate these soldiers back into our society.
JFV is a great idea that quickly evolved to its present state. After retiring from the Navy, Thomas found he "had an urge to do something" for his sisters and brothers-in-arms. As he searched for an outlet, his life-long musical pursuit led him to a door that opened into a much bigger vista than he could have imagined.
He was playing with another Navy buddy, and the crowd response after the show opened his eyes to an untapped potential for service through music. He returned home from that experience, placed an advertisement on Craig's List, and was overwhelmed by the response. "Within two weeks, I think I got 60 responses," Thomas said, "most of (whom) were civilians."
Faced with a large and surprising civilian response, Thomas said the scope of his vision rapidly changed from donating the proceeds from a single band to "lets get a bunch of bands together and put them to work as much as we can, and whatever we get we'll give to a 501c3 organization that supports combat-wounded veterans."
But his vision didn't end there. Instead of giving money generated by gigs to charities, Thomas realized an even more immediate impact was possible if his groups could apply their music "directly to the veterans." This last epiphany led him to partner with veterans service centers like the Detroit Dingell VA Medical Center. In the interest of providing a musical service for Dingell, JFV agrees to do "pretty much anything they want . . . at no cost to them," Thomas said. "We'll do our fund-raising events and we'll use the money that we've raised to pay musicians or buy instruments or whatever it is that we need to do. So . . . our new mission is to enrich the lives of veterans in the VA hospital system with a comprehensive music service program."
Thomas followed his desire to assist veterans and watched with delight as "the mission changed—we're now delivering program services ourselves, (so) we're our own beneficiary. So if I go do a fundraiser, and I raise a thousand bucks, I'll spend that . . .delivering comprehensive music services. So the left hand is working to feed the right hand"
JFV is a troop of musicians who are in demand, and are available for hire throughout the year. They'll perform on July 15 as part of their Trenton City Festival, and later this year are partnering on a September event in Lake Orion with a charity called Michigan Remembers 9/11.
Thomas has bigger dreams still ahead. "I'd love to have somebody like Kid Rock or Ted Nugent – someone with Michigan connections – (to) brand (JFV) and make it their own, because that would immediately mobilize literally thousands of musicians around the country. If something like that ever happened, it would be beyond my ability to contain it."