School of Rock: Guitar Teacher Brings Music to Local Youth

If you hear some kids talking about Elvis eating dynamite, there is a very good chance it is a member of the recently formed guitar club at the Boys & Girls Club of Door County.

Elvis Ate Dynamite Goodbye Elvis. That’s how we learn the names of the strings,” said Tom Mulinix, the man who came up with the idea of a guitar club.

Mulinix, who many know as the face of The Salvation Army in Door County – he actually serves as the donor relations representative for all of northeastern Wisconsin and the U.P. – is a self-taught guitarist who first started working with Boys & Girls Club members when he started a School of Rock when the club was located at the old westside Sturgeon Bay school.

The late actor Bob Thompson donated money from the sale of a guitar to start the School of Rock program.

“The goal was not only to teach them to play various instruments, but also play together in a band,” Mulinix said.

But various moves and staff changes resulted in the programming ending seven years ago and the band equipment being sold. But the idea of making music with club kids never left Mulinix. So he brought in an acoustic electric Rogue guitar to a meeting of his Salvation Army board and pitched the idea that if they gave him enough money to buy one really good guitar, he could turn it into six playable guitars that he could teach kids at the club to play.

The board went for the idea, as did Boys & Girls Club Art Program coordinator Nicole Champeny, who had been thinking about a similar idea herself and was happy to have not only the idea but also a willing teacher with guitars.

Oh, and there was the added bonus that Mulinix is also a guitar technician, skills he said he learned with the help of local artist/musician Patricia Webster.

“I can take a pretty cheap guitar and make it playable with a few adjustments,” he said. “I pull the strings off, redo the bridge, get the action down, adjust the neck. I just turn it into what I consider a real playable guitar. It helps immensely. I can put the whole thing together with a strap, a capo and the guitar for about 100 bucks. To have an acoustic electric of that quality. They play easy. One of the things you worry about young kids, their fingers start to hurt and they get discouraged.”

Mulinix has also developed a unique teaching style that he compares to riding a bicycle.

“You need three things to ride a bike:  balance, pedaling (stroking), and steering,” he said. “For guitar playing it is beat, strumming, and style. When you start riding a bike, you usually start out with training wheels and have someone by your side. So I start out with two chords – E and A with ‘training wheels’ on them. I lay a foundation and build on it with each successive class. It is amazing to see how some of them take off with it.

“I focus on one main objective when I teach guitar – Make Music,” Mulinix continued. “The music teaching gets sprinkled in as we make music. If you try to teach all the technical things, while important, it does not mean much to the kids – they get bored. They want to play guitar. So I can usually in one hour get them to the point where they can actually play a song – maybe not all of them, but many of them.”

Mulinix teaches eight students per class – he said that is the maximum number he can effectively teach – and there is a waitlist of 14 other kids who want to learn how to play guitar.

He knows not all of them will stick with the guitar, but he also notices when things start clicking with a student and they begin to understand. He said it’s amazing to see that recognition.

“That is OK with me if some quit,” he said, “But I tell those that do stick with it that being able to make music will change their lives in ways they can’t imagine now. I know – it changed mine.”

Mulinix said he also had to recognize guitarist Tim Cigler, who fills in if Mulinix can’t make a class; Dan Sallinen, 2018 Youth of the Year, who Mulinix said is a talented guitarist and mentor to others in the club; and Nicole Champeny for championing the program.

Dan Sallinen is Club’s Youth of the Year

At the Boys & Girls Club of Door County (BGCDC) annual Stewardship Breakfast at Stone Harbor Resort on Feb. 8, Sturgeon Bay High School senior Dan Sallinen was was chosen as the club’s Youth of the Year, which means he will represent the club in the state competition. The state winner then goes into the national competition.

The club’s Youth of the Year program is an effort to recognize young leaders who have developed skills they will need in the larger world, skills such as teamwork, communication and setting goals. The nominating committee chose Dan as someone best using those skills.

Dan said he has been going to the club since he was in 5th grade and has made a lot of friends through the club in that time.

Most importantly, he said, is that he “made friends with older people who I normally wouldn’t have contact with. They helped me to be more mature and better prepared for the outside world.”

Being a guitarist, Dan has been teaching other kids in the club how to play, which has led him to think working with kids might be in his future.

“The club has helped me to become a better person and a better musician,” he said

The Elementary Youth of the Year is 5th Grade Sunrise Elementary student Jovan Michelsen, a four-year veteran of the club, who said it has made a big difference in his life because he doesn’t have to go to an empty home after school.

Door County YMCA was named the Nonprofit Partner of the Year for teaming up with the club and Chef Damion Howard to provide free lunches to children during the summer months.

Marine Travelift was named Business Partner of the Year for a six-week program on Mechanical Advantage they designed for club members. BGCDC Executive Director Julie Davis said not only has the group from Marine Travelift continued the program this year, but they have also offered to mentor other manufacturers who would like to work with the club.

The group who organizes the club’s annual golf outing were recognized as Event Volunteers of the Year for making it an event that golfers talk about, and Barb & Doug Henderson were recognized as Program Volunteers of the Year for teaching fused glass art to club members. The couple had no idea they were the award winners when they were commissioned to create the fused glass award.

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