Cultures blend around a goal of helping young African men gain long-term livelihood and positive values. (Courtesy photo)

He has linked with the New + Vision Soccer nonprofit

WHATCOM — Internationally known guitar maker Andy Beech, creator of the late rock musician Prince’s signature Cloud and Symbol guitars, took his craftsmanship to Africa in April, training young woodworkers to make a living from guitars.

Beech, who now makes his home in Bellingham, grew up in the woods of Maple Falls, then a center for logging and milling timber. Mother Danna Beech Haddock was the clerk at the Maple Falls post office. His late father, Wayne Beech, was a longtime U.S. Forest Service worker and founded the Black Mountain Forestry Center in 1999 shortly before his death.

“Andy has earned recognition for crafting some of the finest and most memorable guitars the music industry has ever seen,” says one tribute. They are now seen in movies, during the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show when Prince played, and on display at the Hard Rock Café and The Smithsonian Museum.

Andy started young. He remembers his first wood craftsmanship project, as a 12-year-old, was hand-routing signs for The Glen at Maple Falls vacation community. Not only did he sign up for wood shop classes at Mount Baker High School, where he graduated in 1983, but he often skipped other classes to go to wood shop.

Growing up so far from the resources of Bellingham, and being on a budget, provoked in him a desire to be more capable. By age 13 he was already using his woodworking skills to create guitars — known as being a luthier — which has taken him into his livelihood of renown in the music world.

Andy played guitar in bands locally with friends then living in Sumas, such as Scott Cowen of Nooksack Valley High School. Later in Los Angeles in the 1980s he connected with Zakk Wylde, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, while working at a mom-and-pop music shop on Sunset Boulevard. That connection, and others, led to travel as Wylde’s guitar technician during the Ozzy Osbourne “No More Tears” tour in 1992. He was later called to create guitars for Prince in the 1990s: 31 in all, 27 of The Cloud and four of The Symbol.

His business name is D’Haitre Guitars, using the French word for a Beech tree.

Today it is getting more difficult for Andy to balance between guitars and fine carpentry finish work. As the economy has changed, he has leaned on carpentry when guitar sales are down. But guitars are his true passion. Time is valuable, but the father of two daughters was looking to help children in Africa. Several years ago, a friend and band mate, Dave Bulger, called him. He had met Nathan “Nate” Graf of New +Vision Soccer (NVS), a Tanzania mission. They were looking for someone to teach the boys in their trade school how to make guitars.

Bulger immediately thought of Andy. Had Andy ever been to Africa after his music tours? “God no. It’s the one place I haven’t been.”

While several NVS boys already knew how to make simple wooden toys or furniture, Andy was asked to work directly with one boy, Frank Chico, one of the first to have joined the program. Frank was rare in that he had both parents. “However, they were living in extreme poverty,” Graf said, “and NVS provided Frank with real opportunities — and hope. NVS had recognized that Frank had a real gift to build things from wood.”

Three years ago, Frank had the opportunity to learn to build guitars in Uganda. NVS raised funds for him to have one year of schooling as well as do woodworking projects for NVS. In April Andy worked with Frank to train him in the D’haitre way of building acoustics, so that not only can Frank earn an income but he can train others in the trade school.

Andy Beech will take on more responsibility for this ongoing effort. Four native Ugandan woods have been chosen to work with for being pliable and durable and having the right “look.” The team there will make guitars and ship them back to the United States. Andy will do the finish work and marketing, making sure they have the right sound and play at the right standards. Profits will go back to the boys for their schooling.

The guitars will be released as a division of NVS under D’Haitre’s Glory line. Also, a documentary will be made of Andy’s visit to start this process.

“This opportunity with Andy Beech is incredible and its potential is huge,” Graf said. “It will take time before profits come in to support itself. ... The end result of this workshop/trade school is to put an end to child sponsorship and instead help the Africans create their own income. This would make NVS self-sufficient, basically a nonprofit that creates its own income through work. This is rarely done in nonprofits.”

New + Vision Soccer tries to mentor African boys

The vision of New + Vision Soccer (NVS) was birthed out of a desire to take a “Game” and use it to change a “Life” in Tanzania boys age 10 to 20.

Nate Graf, married 26 years to former Lynden resident Jill Humphreys, is the director, “but the reality is I’m just a volunteer with a whole bunch of really incredible people who make this thing work. We are all part of a team and we all have jobs to do and together, with a common purpose, amazing things happen.”

Graf explains, “It was Jill that has been the real inspiration for NVS. It was always on her bucket list to go to Africa ever since, as a little girl, she heard Debbie (Polinder) Rottier talk about traveling for missions all over the world in First Reformed Church way back in the ‘80s.”

The opportunity for Graf came in 2007 to go to Tanzania with Christ the King Church of Bellingham and YWAM Arusha to help build a school.

“Honestly, at the time I was just along for the ride, but I was deeply affected by what I saw,” Graf said. “Millions of fatherless boys with no purpose, no hope, no mentors. Being the parents of two sons, we both realized we had a responsibility to do something and out of that, over the years, turned into NVS.”

And 30 years after Jill heard Debbie, they have Debbie’s son, Nathan Rottier and his wife Emily, in Africa running the NVS soccer program.

The boys in NVS are mostly without families. Most have lost their parents due to various illnesses — and are left to fend for themselves. To survive, many form gangs.

“Virtually all the world’s ills can be traced back to fatherlessness,” Graf said. “All of these boys will become future leaders at many different capacities. Our mission is to love, teach, educate and mentor these boys into becoming God-fearing fishers of men. Not only getting them up out of poverty, but creating men who will become honorable husbands, fathers and mentors themselves to stop the hopeless cycle.”

“Creating a family atmosphere is extremely important,” Graf said. “It’s one thing to be part of a team, but our involvement with these boys goes way beyond the soccer field. Our full-time staff in Arusha, Tanzania, is in every part of these boys’ lives — on and off the field — in an effort to mentor and minister them through life, just as you would your own family. It’s a critical part of our mission.”

The grassroots nonprofit has two critical needs:

1. The Education Fund. One hundred boys are in the program, but not all need full-time sponsorship. Some need money for a school uniform, or books, or even transportation to and from school. This education fund allows NVS to be flexible and get more of the boys into school.

“We have been without this education fund for over a year now and the need is great. Getting these boys an education, or even just English-speaking classes, can greatly improve their ability to be self-sufficient.”

2. The Workshop/Trade school. Funding is needed not only for operations but to be able to expand for other boys to be involved. The trade school’s goal is to be a funding mechanism.

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