Tabarrini Foundation Providing Guitar Education to Local Kids

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 “The Tabarrini Foundation was born out of the heartbreak of watching my Dad, Lew, while he was passing away from cancer,” said Bob Tabarrini, who most people know as “Sideshow Bob,” the long-time beach musician as well as entertainment coordinator at the Lani Kai Beach Resort who helped establish the program that provides guitars and musical education to area children ages 8 to 18. “He was in the hospital and it was getting toward the end, and I wondered how I would deal with the loss of and memorialize the memory of my best friend who instilled so many values into my life, and I came up with the Foundation.”

Lew Tabarrini with two of his sons Bob and Steve.

Music not only meant a great deal to Bob’s father, but as his condition worsened, it became the final way for him to communicate with his children. “Dad had esophageal cancer,” explained Bob, “so it was difficult and frustrating to talk, so I hooked up a Bose speaker in his room that allowed us six kids to play for him the music he loved and over which we formed our connections. This made him so calm and peaceful, and you could see the frustration leave his eyes. He is the reason why I love music; he even bought me my first guitar!”

Bob’s Dad, however, used music to keep track of his large family, as well as assuring they remained out of trouble: “He not only did not mind that we played all our instruments in the basement, but encouraged it,” Bob related while smiling at the memory! “As long as we played away in the basement, we were not outside getting into trouble, so it did not matter to him if we were jamming at 1 in the afternoon or 1 in the morning, and he never complained about us being loud. Dad believed that a kid with a guitar in his hands would find it far less likely to get into mischief.”

Lew-Palooza!

Tabarrini foundation, founders
Founders of Tabarrini Foundation. Siblings (left to right) Bob, Carol, Steve, Victor. Photo courtesy Passionfly Photography

The resulting Tabarrini Foundation took root so quick that its first fundraiser was just two days after Lew’s death, on the day of his visitation, even before the funeral! “My three brothers and two sisters – John, Steve, Vic, Carol and Jean – are all a part of the Foundation, and we christened that first event ‘Lew-Palooza,’” Bob said laughing! “It was important that we continue his life’s passion and legacy, so it was in place the first week, from concept to reality, from his death to the Foundation’s birth. People wonder how we could pull that off, but it was a great positive thing to focus on, rather than our deep grief. I was the ‘mouthpiece’ for the band, so I would go on-stage and get everyone going, then go and cry eyes my eyes out for 30 minutes, then jump back on and yell, ‘Party Time!’ We received over a dozen donated guitars from that first show.”

Instructor John Housley in a group guitar lesson.

The Tabarrini Foundation created its own guitar educational program, including the manual. “This way, no matter who their instructor is, all the kids learn the same program,” explained Bob. “We can have four or five instructors in a season, though John Housley, who is incredibly knowledgeable and talented, teaches most of the classes as well as writing our training book. We split classes into age groups of 8 to 12 and 13 to 18, with John stressing to them that they are receiving a gift, to take advantage of their opportunity, and to really benefit from the experience.”

During the Summer, the Foundation focuses more on a guitar camp-style than a formal class. “The kids still learn songs,” Bob reinforced, “but easier ones, like from Green Day or The Beatles, with an emphasis on four cords, so they retain their focus.”

Water the Plants

The Tabarrini Foundation benefitted 35 Lee County students last year, and while it is nice to help more children, “we never want to expand so fast that we cannot maintain the quality of our program,” explained Bob. “I would never want to start a child at age 8, then cut them off before they turn 18; that would be like giving a plant water for two years, then suddenly stopping. Since we formed in 2009, we’ve never yet done that, so I think we have a solid slow-growth strategy that works.”

They vet all their teachers and volunteers, “We are very conscious they are around children, so we are diligent,” Bob said. If it were up to him, he would eliminate the middle man and work directly through school districts. “Our primary goal is to get the program into the curriculum and just make the financial contribution, but we encounter obstacles, so we are examining charter schools that may be more accessible to a program like ours. That would be the most efficient forum and the one that makes the most sense.”

ricky medlocke, lynryd skynryd, teaches tabarrini kids
Guitarist Ricky Medlocke of Lynryd Skynryd with two students from the 1st graduating class. Photo courtesy Passionfly Photography.

In addition to the music classes, Foundation kids take part in community service activities: “We sponsor a road segment near Lakes Community Park that we maintain,” Bob explained. “Their families come out and all work together to clean up the area, then we go into the park where we cook hot dogs and everyone brings their guitars for an afternoon of music as a reward. I am not an instructor, so these outings are my quality time to interact with the students. With all the work comes some cool as well: At our first graduation, for example, Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd taught the class to play ‘Sweet Home Alabama!’”

There are many ways for Islanders to get involved in the Tabarrini Foundation’s work. To fill out a student or volunteer application, sponsor a child, or make a financial or guitar donation, contact Angela Sanchez at 239-980-4991, contribute via PayPal at www.tabarrinifoundation.org, or make checks payable to the Lewis P. Tabarrini Children’s Music Outreach Foundation at P.O. Box 7525, Fort Myers, 33919.

Depth & Meaning

1st Scholar Recipient of the Tabarrini Foundation as a kid. Danny Parkinson is a teen now and still plays and teaches guitar! Also shown here is local musician Rob Robinson.

When discussing the most rewarding aspect of the Tabarrini Foundation, Bob exclaims: “Oh My God! Seeing the kids respond, because some of them endure tough situations, and you kind-of see the personality switch come on. They come from an unfortunate background, then the light goes on, in their life and social situations and performing abilities, and that is why once a kid signs up, we do not drop them. If it turns out that the guitar is not the right fit for them, they can leave the program to open up a spot for someone who truly has the passion; sometimes early in life it is just as important to know what is not your cup of tea as to know what is. You never know what will take fruit.”

tabarrini foundation, kids guitar lessons, southwest floridaBob concluded by saying, “I found that music belongs in all of us, and I say that not just because of the Tabarrini name or because we do this in memory of Dad. It gives my life a new passion, besides playing music and being a goofball on stage, by adding more depth and meaning to my existence, especially since I do not have children. That is the best part to me – I get to positively influence young people, without having to get up early to drive them to school!”

 

Gary Mooney