Orchestra holds a concert Saturday to benefit Wounded Warrior Project

Sal Gonzalez Jr. speaks about his experiences as a wounded veteran during the Concert for Heroes at Liberty High School Saturday.
Sal Gonzalez Jr. speaks about his experiences as a wounded veteran during the Concert for Heroes at Liberty High School Saturday. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

ELDERSBURG - Classic rock, pop hits and even some original songs were heard at a performance Saturday that was held to benefit a veteran service organization.

The JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra, along with help from the Wounded Warrior Project, held A Concert for Heroes Saturday night in Liberty High School's auditorium.

The young musicians started the show by performing a small part of "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The orchestra then played songs such as "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay, "Jump" by Van Halen and "Love Story" by Taylor Swift.

During the event, the audience also heard from Sal Gonzalez Jr., a Marine who lost part of his left leg from injuries sustained while fighting in Iraq. Gonzalez shared his story of recovery and sang a song he wrote, titled "Heroes."

Money raised at the concert went to the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors through programs and services designed to nurture mind and body and encourage economic empowerment and engagement.

The JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra is a program within the Freedom Area Recreation Council in Carroll County. Area music students work with adult mentors under the musical direction of Joe Dundore. They prepare for live shows to support charitable causes.

According to David Balch, president of JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra, the orchestra consists of area music students who range in age from 11-18 years of age, in sixth through twelfth grades, and volunteer adults.

JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra put on a similar show last summer where they raised more than $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, Balch said.

"The success of that show, which generated funds from ticket sales, a large silent auction and direct donations, inspired us to do it again this year," he said.

Money at this year's show was raised through ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, raffles, merchandise sales and direct donations. The hope is to raise as much during this event as they did last year, Balch said.

Sal Gonzalez, who works with the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Speaks program, spoke to the audience and performed his song on stage Saturday.

Gonzalez, who was inspired to join the military by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was assigned to the 2nd battalion, 5th Marines as a machine gunner.

He was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq and was in a coma for about a week before he woke up at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. His injuries caused him to lose a lot of weight and muscle.

Gonzalez, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., said music kept him out of trouble while he was growing up in East Los Angeles, Calif., and then helped him during his recovery.

"Learning to play the guitar again is really what kept me going," he said.

His injury helped him realize another passion of his - helping out other wounded warriors.

"The Wounded Warrior Project has helped save my life, too," he said.

Gonzalez, who now uses a prosthetic leg, was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. He told the audience that it has never felt right to him when people call him a hero, so he wrote the song "Heroes," which talks about how heroes are the ones who don't make it home from battle.

He urged everyone in the audience to send any warriors who need help to the Wounded Warrior Project.

"So they can get the help that they not only need, but they deserve," he said.

Balch said the core mission of the JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra is to raise awareness for charitable causes, such as the Wounded Warrior Project. They have also supported the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees.

Saturday's event takes about eight months of planning, which includes weeks of work to custom orchestrate the songs for the instruments played, Balch said.

"It's a very community-oriented event," he said. "We really want to have this to be a reoccurring annual event."