Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) faculty members and a student are being praised for their efforts to help Latinx students in Norristown learn to play the guitar, by organizing the donation of several instruments to their community, educational and cultural center.
Doug Ellis, of Lansdale, a student in the Sound Recording and Music Technology (SRT) department at MCCC and founder of the nonprofit organization “No Strings Attached Guitars,” donated two three-quarter-sized and four full-sized acoustic guitars and cases to Centro de Cultura Arte Trabajo y Educacion (Center for Culture, Art, Training and Education - CCATE) in Norristown recently allowing students there to take lessons.
“We were able to put together six guitars that worked for them,” said Ellis. “We’ll give another six in the next six months, as they get into the program.”
CCATE is non-profit organization with the mission is to “ignite social transformation by developing the talents of and empowering the Latinx community through culture, art, career development, and education. As this mission is realized, our work has grown to include health, science and technology, environmental care, and participatory research," according to its website.
The organization is run by Founder and Executive Director Obed Arango, a former MCCC Anthropology instructor and Mustangs soccer coach, and a current faculty member at the School of Social Policy and Practice of the University of Pennsylvania. Arango contacted Dr. Kendall Martin, a Computer Science Professor at MCCC, who helped launch the “Beats by Girlz” program at CCATE, and explained his guitar dilemma. Before the pandemic CCATE had launched digital music production and guitar lesson classes.
“After the pandemic, both classes were interrupted, for obvious reasons,” said Arango. “Both classes are returning, we have more demand for students for guitar. We had three guitars and we needed six more. I told her we want to return to teach the class. We have students, but there are not enough instruments. Kendall said, ‘I think we can do something about it.’”
Martin then contacted Music Assistant Professor Michael Kelly and explained the situation.
“Kendall Martin made me aware of a need for guitars for CCATE,” said Kelly. “I have an SRT student, an adult learner, Doug Ellis, who owns “No Strings Attached Guitars.” We made the connection and within a day, the guitars were supplied for the new course they are teaching.”
No Strings Attached Guitars is a registered 501c3 organization. “Our focus is on building, repairing, refurbishing, and finishing guitars with a goal to match individuals with a suitable instrument to learn, or continue, to play,” according to its website.
Ellis, a computer software salesman for Salesforce, said he was excited to help the CCATE students when he learned about the problem.
“I saw it was a nonprofit in Norristown and thought it was perfect,” said Ellis.
No Strings Attached was launched during the pandemic, Ellis explained. In the early days of lockdown with nothing to do, the woodworker and father of five, four of whom play guitar, decided it might be fun to learn how to restore used guitars.
“I wouldn’t mind doing this as my side gig,” he said. “I didn’t want to start a business to sell guitars. I wanted to find a way to give back to the community.”
Arango said the guitars arrived promptly after his first conversation with Martin.
“Doug was very kind to reach out very quickly,” said Arango. With the first shipment of instruments in hand, students can have greater access to the instruments. “Now students can take guitars home, continue to practice and bring it in on Monday for class. The guitars he gave us are excellent. They are very good quality, in excellent care and beautiful instruments.”
Arango appreciated all of the work from MCCC faculty and Ellis for making his dream for more guitars a reality.
“It makes a difference,” he said. “Everybody put their talents to work.”
Kelly was also thrilled to see the plan come together quickly.
“I will never underestimate the power of music, or the work we do for our community here at the College,” he said, “which for us keeps growing and having such a positive impact. I love it when things benefit everyone and with such a quick turnaround.”
No Strings Attached Guitars continues to seek used guitars or donations to purchase instruments, said Ellis. If there is someone who could benefit from a guitar donation, visit the No Strings Attached Guitars website and fill out the online application for consideration.