BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – There are two things you need to know about Mike Ponder: he’s a musician and he’s dedicated. He’s not just dedicated to his craft but also to his community.
A veteran, he has been giving back to his community for the past three years by using his background in music to help fellow veterans and their families in the Beaufort area.
Ponder got into the music scene as a child and grew up surrounded by a variety of acts. His parents were both musicians who toured throughout his childhood. Soon, he joined them in touring with the family band when he was free from school.
“I grew up on an old, international tour bus. At three and four and five years old, that bus was huge,” Ponder said.
At 18, after finishing high school, Ponder joined the Marines. This is where he won awards and was able to branch out with his career, eventually switching over to become a Navy Fleet Marine Force Corpsman. In the Navy, he was part of the Naval Choir in Great Lakes, Illinois.
“I was always playing somewhere,” he said. “Even all through my military career.”
Ponder retired from the Navy in 2008 due to injuries sustained during his service. Still, his time in the service and the friends he made while serving remained important to him.
Throughout his life, Ponder has prioritized his community and made his best efforts to uplift those around him.
Now the CEO of SRE JAMS, Ponder helps veterans and active duty military to be able to acquire affordable (and at the same time quality) instruments.
SRE JAMS runs a program for the tri-command Marine Corps and Navy bases in Beaufort that helps anyone learn to play music for free.
“If they want to learn an instrument, we’ll issue them that instrument,” Ponder explained.
If the music student takes at least 12 lessons in a six-month period, they get to keep their instrument for free.
“This last year alone we gave away $18,000 in free guitars,” he said. “We graduated 186 students last year.”
In the past three and a half years, they have operated mostly out on Parris Island, but they are hoping to expand their program in due time. Ponder said that this isn’t just something to help people learn music, but an opportunity to provide an outlet to veterans, active duty military and their families.
“Music has become not only my life but also me giving back to my military community,” Ponder said.
He’s been able to continue giving back to his military community by participating in Operation Encore. This nonprofit assists veterans and military community members across the country to help them advance their music careers, whatever that might look like for them.
There’s so much about Ponder that can’t be fit into a simple web article. However, his music speaks — or sings — for itself. You can check out his latest music video for the song “When The Stars Align” to hear what Ponder is all about — country with a little bit of funk that makes you want to move to the beat.