Thanks in part to a selfie taken by Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Naval Branch Health Clinic Temecula, four men, and one woman, veterans and a first-responder California highway patrolman will participate in American Patriot Music Project’s STEM Guitar Building Project, June 27-30, at Doffo Winery.
The five participants will build their own electric guitars during the four-day instructional program led by Tom Singer of the STEM Guitar NSF Project with a team of three to four instructors from Sinclair College and Edmonds Community College.
“We were formally the California Chapter for Phoenix Patriot Foundation, a national veterans services organization and our music programs have become so successful that we decided to create our own 501(c)(3) in October of last year,” American Patriot Music Project’s Tony “T-Bone” Villegas Jr. said. “We are the first veteran service organization that the STEM Guitar Building Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, has worked with as part of their guitar building projects that have been at the college instructional level for about 10 years.”
The American Patriot Music Project is sponsoring the participants with money donated to the local group by Temecula.
“In December of 2018, the city of Temecula was notified about a Twitter sweepstakes held by Utility Service Partners to show support for the military in your city,” Brandi Bemoll, social media specialist for the city, said. “USP asked local, state and federal government employees to post a selfie on Twitter using hashtag #HeroesInMyCity and hashtag #USPSweepsEntry to enter a sweepstakes for $4,000 to be donated to the winning entries’ veteran nonprofit of choice. The city of Temecula won the sweepstakes with our entry of Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart’s selfie at the ribbon cutting for the Naval Branch Health Clinic Temecula.”
Though the city had a relationship with American Patriot Music Project, according to Bernoli, the decision was made by Stewart after reviewing all nonprofit veteran organizations in the city of Temecula.
“Temecula’s slogan is ‘Old Traditions, New Opportunities,’ and American Patriot Music Project embodies that same idea with the tradition of supporting our military while offering help in a new and exciting way,” Bernoli said.
Once the funding was available to host a local guitar build project, Villegas Jr. had to find a place to host the four-day event.
“We are partnered with an all-women veterans group called ‘Veteran Sisters, She Served Too’ for a fundraiser,” he said. “Samantha Doffo is on the planning committee, and Doffo Winery is one of the poker run stops. I quickly realized how supportive of veterans that winery is. I asked her about allowing us the use her facility, and she did not hesitate.”
During the project, former STEM Guitar Building participants will build a guitar for the city of Temecula, and Villegas Jr. will work on a guitar using wood from a wine barrel that Doffo Winery donated for the project.
The veterans and the first responder will keep the guitar they make when the project is over.
“It is really more of a sense of pride as well as accomplishment,” Villegas Jr. said. “The best compliment we’ve received about the project is ‘I couldn’t think of anything else these last four days,’ and that’s the idea, to let them know there is a way to escape the demons of war if you will, along with a rekindling of the comradery that we as veterans have while in service.
“The guitar I will be building will be given to Doffo Winery as a thank you for letting us use their facility,” he said.
Villegas Jr. is also part of the American Patriot Band, which recently performed at the Temecula State of the City event and will perform again at the city’s Fourth of July event.
“I lost my wife of 35 years to cancer back in 2014,” Villegas Jr. said. “I’ve been a semi-pro musician all my life and after I got my life back in order, I was about to join a disco band or Phoenix Patriot Band – now American Patriot Band. Because of this band, I became the executive director for American Patriot Music Project.”
After this active duty tours, he joined the California National Guard and served as a chaplain’s assistant toward the end of his run.
“It was then that I started to see the effects of war from a totally different perspective,” Villegas Jr. said. “Since I’ve been working with veterans through these VSOs, I have also realized that deep inside I still have PTSD and it has been a healing process for me as well.
“I am honored to be part of this mission and helping our veterans and first responders is a never-ending mission,” he said.
According to Bernoli, Temecula recognizes the values that veteran service organizations possess are similar to those of the city.
“In 2007, city council reaffirmed the special relationship between the city and the military community and since that time, the city has worked closely with public, private and nonprofit organizations to welcome veterans into Temecula,” she said. “Temecula loves our military families.”
While the guitar build is not open to the public, people interested in learning more about or donating to the American Patriot Music Project can do so by visiting www.americanpatriotmusic.org.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.