Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 14
Joe Finnell, from left, Steven Everingham and Conrad
Ruybal joke between songs during a guitar lesson for
veterans in Columbia.
Mid-Missouri program pairs veterans with guitars
by Paul Newton | firstname.lastname@example.org
nside the conference room, Dave Dunklee strums
his guitar while singing a verse from "Jailhouse
Rock." As he hits the ﬁrst note of the chorus, the
25 veterans in the room join in on their guitars
playing the Elvis Presley hit. Some have been playing with the group for a while; some are still green.
But that's not the point.
The Healing Box Project is a program that gifts
veterans with guitars and gives them an avenue
to learn how to play the instrument. Dave and CJ
Dunklee give free, hour-long lessons to veterans
every week at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia. The music heals the
veterans, not only during that hour every Tuesday,
but in the lonely hours in between.
"One guy explained it to me like this," Dave says.
" 'It's like a big chalkboard full of everything that's
bothering me. But when I start playing, it just starts
erasing itself.' "
The Gravois Mill couple started the program at
Fort Leonard Wood where it lasted for 18 months.
But after a change in the Warrior Transition Unit,
the sessions had to be phased out. The Dunklees
didn't miss a beat and with the help of Chris Longdon from Veterans Affairs in Columbia, The Healing
Box Project had a new home.
"All sorts of vets come to the VA to get help, so we
can help more people," Dave says of the hospital he
and CJ drive 90 minutes to reach each week. "We've
grown from 12 people per week to 55 or more."
Conrad Ruybal started attending the program in
April 2016 after hearing about it from a friend. He
wanted something that would get him out of being
alone in his Sedalia home. The Army veteran who
served in Vietnam says that save for the medical
treatment and G.I. Bill, The Healing Box Project is
the best veterans program he's experienced.
"When I ﬁrst came, it was kind of scary. I'd never
handled a guitar. But, when I hit that ﬁrst C chord,"
he says strumming the guitar in his lap, "I was like
'Whoa! I can do this.' Dave's our maestro and teaches us so well. I've been coming ever since."
Dave says seeing that healing is what drew him
and CJ to the project. And the healing isn't conﬁned
to the conference room in the VA.
"They aren't thinking about any of the troubles
in their lives or past trauma," the retired music
teacher says. "They know if that guitar is with them,
they can get that same feeling any time. It's not a
miracle. It's not magic. It's music."
Conrad - who plays his guitar at least every night
- gives voice to the healing power of the music.
"We learn here, but when we leave those lonely
hours are where you feel that emptiness come up,"
he says. "When I feel that, I can just play. It's fabulous. I've got the sheets from class that I take home
and I can practice and go over them."
The group currently hosts two back-to-back,
hour-long group lessons every Tuesday at the VA,
hosting approximately 55 veterans per week. During the free lessons, Dave leads the group playing
whatever song they are working on, circling around
the room to help. Chris - a peer support specialist at the hospital who helped move the program to
Columbia - also helps instruct.
Dave says there are a lot of Vietnam veterans who
come to the classes, however, they have veterans of
In addition to playing on Tuesdays, the group has
hosted concerts for patients at the hospital - which
Left: Dave Dunklee shares a laugh with Glenn Bordelon while
Dave leads a guitar class for veterans. Right: CJ Dunklee talks
with Curtis Mokshefski between songs during a music lesson.
CJ and her husband run The Healing Box Project which gives
guitars to veterans and teaches them to play.
RURAL MISSOURI | DECEMBER 2017
Conrad says is a way to pay back all The Healing
Box Project has given him - and in November hosted a "Salute to Veterans Fish Fry and Free Concert"
where veterans could eat for $1.
"We started this because we wanted to give back.
We knew we could do it without any salaries or
administrative fees," he says. "We'd like to expand
further, but it takes money or a grant."
Dave performs at bars, restaurants and wineries
around the Lake of the Ozarks. "I tell people, if you
leave a tip or donation, it goes to helping veterans."
The Healing Box Project accepts ﬁnancial donations as well as donations of guitars to be distributed to veterans. If someone is interested in purchasing a guitar, Dave recommends sending the project
a check for $250, which they can use to purchase a
guitar of greater value.
To date the project has given 99 guitars to veterans to play. Getting that guitar and learning together with peers are part of what got Kelly Johnson of
Perry to join. He heard about the program through
the peer support group at the VA, and while he had
dabbled with the guitar previously, it had been a
long time since he played.
"The camaraderie with everyone here has meant
a lot," the Ralls County Electric Cooperative member says. "I've had problems with isolation, but it's
very comfortable here on Tuesdays. I feel like I need
it. It gets me out of that front door. I've met a lot
of people and made new friends. I hadn't had that
opportunity in awhile."
For more information or to donate to The Healing
Box Project visit www.thehealingboxproject.org, ﬁnd
it on Facebook, call 573-372-1234 or mail P.O.Box
66, Gravois Mills, MO 65037.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2017
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Contents
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 4
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 5
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 6
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 7
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 8
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 9
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 10
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Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover4