Arturo Echarte changes lives through his acoustic music
By Maria Sonnenberg for Florida Today
Music, the universal language, speaks when words fail, as Hans Christian Andersen wisely put it. Indialantic guitarist Arturo Echarte’s music speaks of kindness and of a sense of community. The founder of Acoustics for a Change, Echarte channels music for the good of others. His music ministry supports local charities by connecting them with musicians, Echarte included, willing to donate their time to play at fundraisers. Echarte also collects gently used musical instruments to give to young musicians who cannot afford to buy the equipment. Additionally, Acoustics for a Change musicians play for a donation fee at private parties, weddings and gallery openings, again, to raise money to give to local nonprofits. “It’s a win-win for all,” said Lynn Brockwell-Carey, executive director of the Brevard Neighborhood Development Coalition. Through Echarte’s efforts, the organization received musical instruments for a music program at its DOCK, a drop-in center for children living in the Booker T. Washington neighborhood, Melbourne’s poorest community.
Understanding the need
Echarte knows firsthand how tough life can be for these youngsters. In the late ’60s, his parents left Cuba with only the clothes on their backs and a baby on the way. “We left everything there,” Echarte said. “You could only take a suitcase with you.” A few weeks later, Echarte arrived in the world as the family struggled to make ends meet in a new country. “I was the only one of five brothers born in the United States,” he said. Echarte’s father, Luis, an MIT-trained builder, eventually found himself in Cocoa Beach, where construction was booming to meet the increasing number of workers needed at nearby Kennedy Space Center. “He heard of the opportunity here because of the space boom, so he took up building in Cocoa Beach,” Echarte said. The family eventually returned to South Florida as the elder Echarte followed other building opportunities. “We moved south, but our heart stayed here,” Echarte said. “I always loved it here. It has great memories and is a great place to raise a family.”
A career in the making
As a psychology major at Florida Atlantic University, Echarte wanted to continue in the field and earn his doctorate. That plan never came to be. “To be honest, my grades weren’t good enough for me to get into graduate school,” he said. Serendipity intervened in the shape of a cousin who ran a successful mailing business in Puerto Rico. Echarte and his dad thought the idea could be translated to South Florida, and thus was born Postal Center International, now a high-volume, high-speed mail handling and digital printing business with state-of-the-art facilities in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. The company’s tremendous success has afforded Echarte the ability to devote his energy to his music ministry, but in the beginning, Echarte threw his heart and soul into the business. “I was 24 at the time, and the business grew very slowly,” he said. “We started from scratch. As I grew up, the business grew.” Four years into the venture, Echarte added an important new partner — his wife, Susan. “She allowed us to go to the next level,” he said. Susan Echarte, who had run a travel agency in Miami, was adept at getting things organized. The couple worked well together, but as their business enjoyed increasing success, the Echartes found themselves enjoying life less and less. “We were both workaholics, and we began to burn out,” Echarte said. “We worked all the time. We didn’t have time for each other and for our family. We didn’t go to church and have a relationship with God. I wanted to get more balanced, to step away.” Remembering the good memories of Brevard, Echarte bought a condominium in Indialantic as a getaway for the couple and their two daughters. “It was one of the best moves for our family and for the business,” he said. The Echartes eventually settled full-time in Brevard, thanks to trusted staff, who helped wean them from the day-to-day operations at PCI. Arturo only needs to Skype with the company’s president once a day and work in the office a few days a month. “Our lives were changed, and our marriage grew stronger,” Echarte said.
Playing with a purpose
With the gift of time given to him, Echarte wanted to give back. “The blessings that God has given us come with responsibilities, and I felt I must do something to help others,” he said. “God has given us a purpose to do something good with our lives, and I feel this is my purpose.” In college, Echarte had puttered around with the acoustic guitar. With his new freedom, he again picked up the musical instrument, this time to play with church bands. Somewhere along the line, someone invited him to play at a charity event. “The recession was starting, and I realized how much these nonprofits were struggling to stay afloat,” he said. “I decided to offer my services for free, to help them save the money they would have had to pay for live entertainment. From there, it just grew.” Echarte has been joined in the music ministry by local musicians Mike Fred, Kim Jacobs and Everette Stephens and, in California, where the Echartes have a second home, by Mark DeBellis. An additional 200 musicians are invited to step in when the need arises. “I had been thinking of doing the same thing when Arturo approached me,” said Fred, of Palm Bay. “God gave me a talent, and I want to give back.” Guitarist Kim Jacobs sees her donated gigs as a way to connect with others. “Music touches you in ways nothing else can,” the Indialantic resident said. “It is so rewarding to be able to play the instrument you love to help others raise money for these worthy causes.” Another aspect of Echarte’s ministry is working with the music community to obtain musical instruments to give to children from low-income families. Echarte donated several instruments, plus monetary gifts, to Club Esteem. In part because of his help, 45 children participate in the center’s music program. “As a result, Club Esteem has been able to increase the number of students that participate in our Music Mentoring Program,” said Club Esteem executive director Ellena Little. “Acoustic for a Change has touched many lives through music.” Echarte played Latin-themed tunes for the Space Coast Symphony’s Viva la Musica fundraiser. As founder of the orchestra, conductor Aaron Collins strongly emphasizes the need to nurture music in the lives of young people. “Arturo’s commitment to giving underprivileged youth an opportunity to have a musical instrument is a noble cause,” Collins said. “Very rarely do you meet someone so compassionate and committed.” Marta Fiol of Cancer Care Foundation met Echarte at the Club Performax Spinathon several years ago, an event that raised money for cancer patients who needed help with living expenses. “After that, every time we have had an event, he has volunteered his wonderful gift of talent and music.” For Healthy Start Coalition, Echarte’s ministry has helped to musically relay the message behind the organization. “He really believes in our mission to ensure moms and babies get the care they need,” said executive director Jennifer Floyd.
A family giving back
Susan Echarte has also joined her husband in his ministry by volunteering as event planner for local charities. “Susan is phenomenal at event planning,” said Echarte.“Once I started playing at these functions, I realized she could help them out. We make a good team.” The Susan Echarte “planning touch” has been instrumental in the success of events such as the National Kidney Foundation’s Gidget evening, which introduced Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, the original Gidget, to Brevard. The Echarte’s daughters, 21-year-old Paige and 19-year-old Madison, learned from their parents lifelong lessons about volunteering. Paige, for example, traveled to India on a humanitarian mission. They have expanded their ministry into Southern California, where the Echartes live part of the year, primarily for the surfing. “I love surfing, so we rented a place for a couple of months for two or three years before buying a townhouse,” Echarte said. To nonprofits on the East and West Coasts, the Echartes’ ministry is music to their ears. “Giving isn’t just about dollars,” Brockwell-Carey said. “It’s also about self-sacrifice, sharing our talents and heart with others. “Arturo struck upon the creative idea of channeling his musical gifts philanthropically and inspiring other musicians to do the same. The musicians experience the joy of giving and become better known in the community, and the nonprofits and people in need are blessed through their efforts.”