They say music is the language of the soul.
And that couldn't be more true for a number of South Coast school children who are set to benefit from the generosity of ACT-based Soldier On Music Group and their Bushfire Relief Guitar Program.
As the name suggests the plan is to visit South Coast communities devastated by the recent bushfires and present a number of children with guitars and ukuleles.
Group members Col Greef and Mike Hogen have been joined by Soldier On programs officer Debbie Dimmock on a three-day South Coast trip.
First stop on Wednesday, July 29 was Bomaderry Public School, where two lucky families, each boasting multiple children, were selected by the school as recipients of guitars.
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It was thought each family would be presented with one guitar, but the Soldier On Music Group had other ideas, with Dustin and Logan Peters and their little sister Alexis presented with three guitars and a ukulele and twins Charlotte and Sam Whittaker a guitar each.
The guitars have been donated by the Canberra community and have been refurbished and ready to hand out.
The project's origins date back to 2019 when naval veterans Col Greef and Mike Hogan, decided they wanted to give back to the community through the power of music.
Since then the pair have refurbished more than 30 guitars which have been presented to disadvantaged children within the ACT and regional NSW, at schools in Dalgety and Adaminaby, which boast fantastic music programs.
"Following this year's devastating bushfires we wanted to do something for the South Coast," Col said.
"We thought we could expand our project and hopefully get some guitars for kids who might have lost theirs in the fires or even to kids who had an interest in music but didn't have any instruments."
Both Col and Mike have strong ties to the South Coast, having spent many happy days serving at HMAS Albatross and when they heard about the loss and destruction that the bushfires reeked on the community they were devastated.
The support of the Canberra community was sought and more than 100 guitars and ukeleles have been donated.
A road trip to visit schools and present the guitars was planned shortly after the fires but unfortunately, COVID-19 came along and the plans had to be put on hold for a couple of months.
They were joined at Wednesday's presentation by members of the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefit Group, many of whom had served with both Col and Mike.
"Music brings people from all walks of life together," Col said.
"We hope that by providing the guitars, children will be encouraged to be active in music.
"We just thought the guitar project would be a great way to help some of the children affected."
For 12-year-old Dustin Peters it was a double treat - as well as being presented with a guitar he was always given an electric guitar and amplifier.
"This is just amazing," the year 6 student said.
"I can't believe it. It's pretty special."
Younger brother Logan, 9, who is in year 4 said he couldn't wait to try out his new instrument.
"I was given a guitar for my birthday but I've got a busted string, so this is fantastic," he said.
The boys, however, were upstaged by their five-year-old little sister Alexis, who also attends the school's pre-school.
She was presented with her own ukulele and proceeded to steal the show, joining both Col and Mike on stage strumming along as they gave a quick performance.
Nine-year-old twins Charlotte and Sam Whittaker, who are year 4 students, come from a musical family, their father also plays.
"This is pretty cool," Sam said "now I'm going to learn how to play properly."
Charlotte thanked the Soldier On group for the "special gifts".
"This is incredible," she said.
"So cool to have our own guitars.
"This program is fantastic and is going to help a lot of people and will encourage kids to get involved in music."
Bomaderry Public principal Dionne Hanbidge was "blown away" by the generosity.
"This is amazing," she said.
"We thought each family would be given a guitar, not one to each individual child.
"This is fantastic and hopefully encourages the children to continue their love of music.
"Who knows, it might even lead to a music program within the school.
"It was a tough decision to just pick a handful of students from more than 390 we have here at Bomaderry Public. They are all great kids, have shown an interest in music and I think we've made the right choice."
The South Coast tour will also see stops at Milton, Ulladulla, Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma, with around 30 guitars to be given away.
The Soldier On Music Group was started as a wellbeing and social connection for veterans.
The group meets every Thursday and recommend and invite others to join.
"Music brings everyone together," Col said.
"And it doesn't matter if you can't play, we teach them."
The pair have been involved with Soldier on since 2016, with the organisation having been supporting the veteran community since 2012.
Through the delivery of holistic services, Soldier On enables veterans and their families to thrive, providing support to veterans and their families, including those who have served and continue to serve in the Australian Defence Force.
Its services aim to help individuals build resilience, and create and expand meaningful connections with family, community and employers through its health and wellbeing services, employment programs, learning opportunities and participation activities.
Soldier On programs are centred around the needs of the Australian veteran community.
As a national not-for-profit charity the group supports more than 3000 veterans and their family members through its programs.
The programs are made possible through the generous support of the Australian community and the group's partners.
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