An innovative partnership between Rayco Guitars and the Smithers Community Services Association has members of the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) building their own electric guitars, learning woodworking skills while creating an instrument they can enjoy for years to come.
Mark Thibeault of Rayco approached SCSA with the idea, and after over a year of planning and organizing, the first group of eight students are nearly through turning their ideas into six-string physical reality.
“The Youth Empowerment Program is always looking for opportunities to have work experience and life skills training for our participants,” said Facundo Gastiazoro of YEP.
Thibeault said the idea came to him and Rayco partner Jason Friesen when they were trying to decide what to do with an unused area of their shop.
“We had this whole big shop on the other end, and it was vacant, and I just looked at it and I thought the way it was set up, it was set up perfectly for instruction,” said Thibeault.
He and Friesen were planning to offer guitar-making courses to private students, but also wanted to offer something to local youth who might not get a similar opportunity otherwise.
“They get in here, and they’re just absolutely focused. When I was 16, 17 years old, if I could get into a guitar shop and make guitars I would have been doing it for 30 years instead of just the 18 that I’ve been doing it,” said Thibeault. “Rather than coming in here and making picnic tables or something, they’re actually walking away with an electric guitar that they built.”
One of the participants said he appreciated the chance to build a guitar, since he’s done some woodworking making furniture in the past.
“It’s pretty fun. I like working with wood, and being hands-on with stuff,” he said.
He said he’ll be enjoying his instrument when the course is finished.
“We could sell it if we want to, but I’m going to keep it,” he said.
Gastiazoro said the students have been responding well to the Rayco program.
“It’s been amazing how successful it is. We have a lot of programs, and some of our participants don’t engage in other programs,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen some of them do something so passionately. They’re at the door of the centre at nine in the morning to come here. I pulled out the other day without one of the kids [because he was late and we thought he wasn’t going to come] and he was running behind the van to catch up.”
Thibeault said he and his Rayco partner Friesen have also been learning new skills while teaching the course.
“Jason and I have built 280 guitars and shipped them all over the world, resonator guitars and acoustic guitars, but never electric guitars, so this is my first time building an electric guitar with this group,” he said.
He said he hopes to arrange a showing of the finished guitars in the coming weeks, since all of them are original designs by the students. He’s also hoping to take the YEP program and turn it into an ongoing model, possibly with other Bulkley Valley organizations.
“We’re trying to keep this ongoing,” said Thibeault. “I can’t say enough about it, it’s just really good to see.”
For more information on the program, contact Mark Thibeault at 250-877-9314.