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 $18,000.00 to help kids his age half-a-world away by performing in front of his neighborhood coffee shop, Kim set up a concert in Austin to help his cause. Ben’s website was called, iplayforpeace.net, so Kim thought to call her concert “Ben & I” – thinking that, perhaps, other people might join her in “becoming the ‘I’ ” in the effort. The idea was contagious, and before long, friends had set up concerts in their home towns and pitched in with their support. Oboist Tenly Williams set up a concert in Denver, and soprano Martha Lopez-Leschke followed suit in Sarasota. Benjamin Verdery composed a beautiful piece of music for the event, Concordia University-TX donated their concert hall and the hard work of forty college students, twenty professional musicians donated their beautiful playing, and corporate sponsors D’Addario Strings and National Guitar Workshop made generous donations. Wash Perk donated the use of their space for the concert in Denver. Piano Distributors donated the use of Peg Madill Recital Hall in Sarasota.
In 2012, guitarist Cameron Peace joined our project as the Director of Ben & I Play for Peace – Seattle. Benjamin Verdery performed on the Austin concert and conducted an orchestra of Austin guitarists that included award-winning McCallum Fine Arts Academy Guitar Ensemble. Moved by the experiences of the veterans who joined our group of student volunteers from Concordia University, we became an official community partner with the Wounded Warrior Project. Robert Summers, a veteran of the United States Army, joined our team as the Student & Sponsorship Coordinator. We were in honored to be joined in Austin by CNN Hero Brad Blauser, Founder & Director of Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids. Our project was recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives, the NPR/PBS program “From the Top”, local media KUT, KEYE, KVUE, KXAN, FOX 7, YNN, the Austin- American Statesman, and Soundboard: The Journal of the Guitar Foundation of America.
In the last three years, we have been inspired over and over again by the kindness, cooperation, and commitment on the part of each student, musician, veteran, and community member that goes into making this event a success. We are so proud to have played a small part in the success of Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids, and are glad to see the Iraqi Ministry of Health take on this important work in the lives of the children. We continue to follow our friend Brad’s efforts as he transitions out of Iraq and begins new work in Kurdistan, and will update all of you on this site.
In Austin this year (2013), we were honored to share the stage with a guitar group of veterans who studied with Kim to prepare for the concert. The impact of veterans helping veterans has moved both of us and all involved more than we could have imagined. You can follow the continuation of this part of our project on the “Veterans’ Guitar Project” part of our site.
Ben’s original idea (at age 11) that “one person might not be able to solve a problem, but everyone can help to help” is still our inspiration. Thank you for joining us.
To date, our 2011 & 2012 concerts have raised $23, 772.00, helping Ben to hit a personal fundraising total of $48, 772.00.