Playing for Peace – Updates from Guitarist Ben Werdegar

Earlier this year, we were deeply moved by a young man who submitted his music outreach project to our Arts Leadership Map. At thirteen years old, guitarist Ben Werdergar has already made a difference in the world through his music. After hearing a story about Iraqi children needing wheelchairs, Ben wanted to use his music to help.

“I just knew this was what I was meant to do, I was meant to help these kids. I don’t know any other way to say it other than my heart just told me that it was the right thing.”

So he set up shop in front of a bakery in Palo Alto, California and started playing guitar to raise money for Brad Blauser’s (a 2009 CNN hero) organization, Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids. Nearly three years later, Ben has raised a whopping $26,000 to further this cause! His arts leadership is represented by a phrase Ben coined himself: “I Play For Peace.” Click here to see Ben’s website and blog.

Photo courtesy of San Mateo Daily Journal

Ben’s display of compassion through music has led to sister projects around the nation. In Austin, Texas, Concordia University professor and guitarist Kim Perlak was so moved by his determination and cause that she created “Ben and I Play for Peace,” a concert featuring professional and student musicians. But the inspiration quickly spread and what initially emerged as a single fundraising event turned into a three-state concert series. In Colorado, the Mountain Music Duo, comprised of guitarist James Cline and oboist Tenly Williams, planned a Denver “Ben and I Play for Peace” concert featuring local classical musicians.  2,000 miles away, State University of Florida professor Martha Lopez extended the series to include a Sarasota concert with her music students. On April 3, 2011 at 3pm each of the three cities presented a public concert to benefit Ben and Brad’s cause. Over $6,000 was raised for Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids!

Last week Ben sent us a few updates on his leadership project. Kim’s “Ben and I Play for Peace” concert enabled Ben to spread the mission of Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids to a broader audience in Austin through both television and radio. Click here to watch Ben’s interview with ABC News and here to see his interview with FOX News.

To top things off, Ben was the proud recipient of a letter from Congress, thanking him, Kim and all the others who have furthered Ben’s ultimate mission of raising $1 million for Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids.

We are incredibly impressed with Ben’s on-going dedication to Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids, and his efforts show just how powerful music and compassion can be in making the world a better place. Thank you, Ben!

A family in Iraq thanks Ben for their son's wheelchair.