Mark DeBellis happened to be walking through the Mercy Thrift Store at Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Niguel when he spotted a beat up classical guitar.
How much, he asked the clerk. “Oh, five bucks.”
DeBellis bought the guitar, took it home and over a few weeks found time to strip it, refinish it and restore it to good condition. Then he gave it away to an organization that will give it to another organization that will put it in the hands of a youngster who otherwise might not get the chance to play music.
That’s how Acoustic for a Change works: People donate gently used musical instruments to founders Arturo and Susan Echarte and they match the instrument to local groups that work with underprivileged children and after school programs.
Late last month, the guitar that DeBellis refurbished sat on a stand in the living room of the Echartes’ 1928 Spanish Colonial home in Dana Point. They planned to send it to the San Juan Capistrano based group Mariachi for All, which also received a trumpet recently from Acoustic for a Change.
When instruments come in, Arturo Echarte sends out a blast to organizations on his email list or posts on Facebook: Who needs this?
The Echartes, married for 25 years, say Acoustic for a Change is a ministry born from their Christian faith.
“There are so many instruments in a closet collecting dust,” Arturo Echarte says. They own and operate a successful printing, mailing and marketing business in central Florida, where Acoustic for a Change got its start about six years ago. The couple had long been bicoastal homeowners after visiting Laguna Beach for a summer vacation with their daughters, and eventually expanded Acoustic for a Change to Orange County.
Arturo is the son of Cuban immigrants who fled their native country not long after Fidel Castro came to power. Arturo’s father was a successful builder. Piano and guitar lessons were a part of childhood for Arturo, but he put the instruments down by the time he was 12. Arturo, 52, tried playing again in college, but didn’t get serious about the guitar until he was 35. He took lessons again, and found that playing music helped calm him from the stress of running a business. He played in a church band and then started playing solo in coffee shops, donating his tips to charity. From there, he got the idea to donate his time to play at charitable events.
Susan and Arturo Echarte run Acoustic for a Change, a ministry that collects gently used instruments to give to needy kids and programs. Susan Echarte holds a guitar that was found in a thrift store by a volunteer musician and refurbished. Arturo Echarte, who plays guitar, also offers and arranges free live musical entertainment for fundraisers of other charities.
Next, he noticed some of the charities could have used help with the décor and the planning for their events. That’s where Susan Echarte and her gift for organization broadened the scope of Acoustic for a Change.
Susan, 50, is available to lend advice to charities as they plan fundraisers. She calls upon skills she learned as a travel agent, the job she had when she met Arturo on a blind date that one of his cousins arranged. “If you’re going to have an event,” she says, “if your goal is to make money, I can help you.”
Running Acoustic for a Change has become pretty much a fulltime effort for the Echartes, who like to spend summers on the West Coast. Their business doesn’t demand as much of their attention as it used to, they say. Their daughters are 20 and 22, both incollege and one recently married.
Arturo Echarte recruits other musicians to perform for free at fundraisers for charities. In addition, Acoustic for a Change provides musicians to play private events, for a minimum donation that goes in part to charities and in part to the musicians. When he plays fundraisers, Arturo stays low key and in the background, strumming and picking Spanish flavored instrumental music from his guitar. There might be a table with brochures about Acoustic for a Change or he might mention the program to people who come up and chat with him. Arturo does much of the coordinating for Acoustic for a Change from his cellphone, thumbing through lists of contacts he has culled from word of mouth, email blasts, Facebook and the website, acousticforachange.com.
The Echartes say they have never failed to place an instrument, so far directing a few hundred guitars, trumpets, flutes, clarinets, violins, drums, keyboards and pianos to organizations that serve children. But there was one exception. A big, heavy accordion went unwanted for nearly a year. The Echartes, who can store only a few instruments for short periods in their garage, finally decided to put the accordion on eBay. A collector in Brazil purchased it. They donated the money to charity.
Sometimes serendipity plays a role in the way instruments come and go. In April, a 12 year old boy accidentally left the clarinet he plays in his school band on a city bus. His mother is single and the family struggles with homelessness, Arturo Echarte said. “It was never found,” he says of the clarinet. “He was going to have to quit the school band.” Just the week before, Acoustic for a Change had swapped a guitar for a clarinet and was able to replace the boy’s lost instrument through the Illumination Foundation, an organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of homelessness.
About a month ago, three pianos were donated to Acoustic for a Change. One of them went to Hope Ministries, an organization in Garden Grove that runs a family support center in a poor neighborhood. Hope Ministries helps with basic needs such as diapers, and runs a program for abandoned and abused women. It also offers an after school program for neighborhood kids with the help of high school volunteers. Hope Ministries had two keyboards. When founder Gayle Knight saw a photograph of a Cable piano that Acoustic for a Change had available, she wanted it. She had played piano as a child and her mother was a cellist. “I just thought it would be perfect,” says Knight, who paid a mover to pick it up. “If people are not having a good day, they can go to the piano and sit and play. I want these kids to be able to do this and know that there are other ways to solve problems besides gangs and graffiti.”
The volunteer musicians with Acoustic for a Change range in age from 11 to 60. DeBellis is one of them. DeBellis runs PSB Integrated Marketing in Lake Forest and plays music on the side. That includes a regular weekend gig playing guitar in one of the bands at Saddle back Church, where the Echartes attend services. DeBellis learned about Acoustic for a Change when an email arrived about two years ago from Arturo Echarte. “If there’s a way to just further along what their purpose is and what this does for the community, ” DeBellis says, “that’s a really good thing. I just enjoy playing music for people.”
Article By Theresa Walker in Orange County Register.
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