by Larry Lehna
The Ben’s Encore charity came into being as a tribute to Ben Borowiak, the fallen friend of some local musicians. Ben was also a musician. This organization is intended to help the Detroit music scene in many ways. You can visit their website at bensencore.com. Their mission statement states their aims quite concisely:
“To ensure that aspiring musicians in the City of Detroit and its surrounding areas are able to carry on the City's rich musical heritage, by awarding scholarships to inspired music students, providing grants to under-served school music programs, sponsoring events to showcase up-and-coming local artists, and offering other forms of support.”
Sounds pretty lofty, but this is not one of those charities with high paid directors and officers; there are no paid positions, everyone associated with bensencore.com donates their time and efforts. Yet what they have accomplished is remarkable. These people work hard. It is a testament to the man they are honoring.
Ben Borwiak was the type of guy we’ve all met; he made you feel as if you were the most important person in the world. The reason some people can do this is because they are really interested in others; Ben was interested in everyone and everything. When Ben was a freshman at the University of Detroit Mercy he was hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on I-696. He survived, with many shattered bones, but even worse, his brain was scarred.
Ben threw himself into physical therapy to learn to walk again. When he took a break it was with a musical instrument in his hands and a positive attitude. The therapists loved him. In his spare time he volunteered at many local charities including: Focus Hope, Habitat for Humanity, Selma’s Home, Angel’s Night and Blight Busters. It is that selfless model his friends chose to emulate. Ben was a truly good person; his friends are damn good people also.
It was during his rehabilitation that Ben learned that the scarring of his brain had caused him to develop epilepsy. He continued with his music and at times played with several bands at the same time. He jumped at every opportunity to play, the man loved music. More than 10 years later Ben died from complications of an epileptic seizure. His friends were stunned. It had seemed as if he were conquering his initial setback; to lose him at this point was heartbreaking.
Some of Ben’s friends and family decided to hold a concert with the proceeds going to De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren where Ben began his musical career. They called it a Bennyfit and raised $7,000 for the school. With that initial success they opted to create a charitable organization to benefit under funded local music programs and to provide scholarships to gifted students who wouldn’t be able to continue their education without the help.
The Bennyfit has become a yearly event, but the charity has broadened its scope. They participate in Tinker Hack, a June workshop at the Henry Ford in Dearborn. In July they are at Maker Faire Detroit, an educational workshop, which will be held in July also at the Henry Ford. They sponsor the Chili Cook-off BENanza with the last two hosts being the Kuhnhenn Brewery and the Dragonmeade Brewery.
Last year they hosted the first annual Back to School celebration that was held at the Hard Rock Café. It is a full day of family fun, food and music. Included is an instrument building workshop for kids of all ages and their self-styled “percussion wall.” On their website you are encouraged to download their free guide, “Make your own Musical Instruments,” which has detailed instructions on how to make over 25 instruments and covers every orchestra section. The choices go from brass-Garden Hose Trumpet, to percussion-You Con-Duit Glockenspiel, to strings-Tin Can Fiddle and Bow and even reeds with a Tube Kazoo. There are projects for every age group and skill level. This is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers.
They also conduct Science of Sound workshops and tailor each presentation to the age group of the students. During these workshops they discuss how sound travels and usually help the kids make some musical instruments. They try to never turn away any school or youth group wanting a show. So if you are a teacher feel free to contact them at their website. But keep in mind that these people all work real jobs and can’t always get away, although some of them are teachers themselves, so they are more readily available in the summer months.
Their newest big sponsorship is the first ever Hamtramck Music Festival. When the Metro Times moved their blowout from early March to the cusp of April and May many bar owners rued the loss of a busy weekend. BEN’S ENCORE was happy to leap into action to help find good local musicians. The three day event kicks off on March 6th and features more than 150 bands at 18 local venues. With Hamtramck’s small town feel most places are within walking distance. So come out to support our local artists. You will hear some great music and a portion of the money will go to perpetuate Detroit’s music scene. What more could you ask for in a fun night out?