AVON LAKE, Ohio — There’s therapy in songs. They make you feel things … remember things. Sometimes, they force you to face the things you had been trying to forget.
Then, there are times when all the notes and words come together in a way that makes our nation’s warriors feel heard, and understood.
That’s where the non-profit Music on a Mission comes in. Founder Marilyn Zeidner started it to help heal people through music. There are many different programs, including “Kids in Tune,” “Dance to the Music,” “Seniors in Symphony,” “Voices for Veterans,” and finally, “Project D.R.E.W.,” named after Army veteran Drew Ferguson, an Avon Lake native.
All the programs have one thing in common: To help heal people through music; especially those with special needs.
Zeidner co-founded D.R.E.W. (Delivering Resotrative Energy to our Warriors) with Ferguson’s cousin, Mike Winnen. The two often played music together before Ferguson took his own life.
“Drew definitely struggled. I mean, he lost his mother, my aunt, in high school. So, you can imagine, very difficult for him. And, I’ll say along with, maybe even in spite of, his very successful career in the military, he finished as a Captain in the U.S. Army, he was an Airborne Ranger, Green Beret in the Special Forces Operative,” Winned said.
When Ferguson got home, things were off.
“His return from service was a rough one. He definitely struggled. We got home and he just disconnected from our family. And, ultimately, in the summer of 2017, he decided to end his journey. So, yeah, he definitely struggled, but along with that, his interest in music and the power of music to bring people together was absolutely a piece of Drew,” Winnen spoke of his cousin.
And that’s exactly what D.R.E.W., does. For two days, veterans and songwriters come together in a private workshop. They pair off with their hearts open, and pens ready to capture tales of service and sacrifice.
A.J. Torres, a U.S. Marine, said the experience was lifechanging. Not only because of what his songwriter, Mark Freeman, was able to convey through his song, but also because of the connection they built over those few days.
“Talking to my songwriter, he was fantastic. I mean, I think we bonded real good and it was constant communication. I think I could have stayed here all afternoon talking to him,” Torres said. “And just the things he was getting out of me, got a little emotional because it brings back from the day I left, to my life now and all the accomplishments that I’ve done through my career,” said Torres.
The musicians have about 24 hours to put it on paper. On Day 2, they stand before their vets and their loved ones, sharing the words – some there – haven’t yet heard.
The performances hit home with the veterans.
“It was like, he was just spot on. I was so thrilled. My sister, who was in the song, was here, also. She was all teary eyed. It was just wonderful,” U.S. Navy veteran Gail Shinsky said of her songwriter, Charlie Weiner.
For U.S. Army veteran Michael Henighan, the experience moved him.
“It was emotional, you know? Because I knew it was about me. And, each one of those lines was something that I had said in my rambling when we were conversing,” Henighan said of his song.
The honor, almost overwhelming or the songwriters.
“It’s so difficult to, you know, you’re singing for the person you’re writing about, and what you want to do more than anything is tell their story in the most honest, sincere way,” songwriter Rachel Brown said of singing for her veteran, Henighan.
For the men and women who were part of something bigger than themselves, they get the gift of their own experiences, free to listen, for the rest of their lives.
“Some of these vets have told us that they listen to their song every day, and it has made a big difference for them. It takes their reoccurring thoughts out of their head and pus it somewhere else,” Marilyn Zeidner expressed of the project.
It’s a distraction that Mike Winnen can’t help but wonder would have helped his cousin, Drew.
“I just wonder if he was able to get involved in anything like this, how many things may have turned out. And, that’s the connection piece,” said Winnen.
If you, or someone you know, want to be a part of Project D.R.E.W., click HERE.
For more information on Music on a Mission, click HERE.