By Shelley Koppel
INDIALANTIC - Arturo and Susan Echarte believe in giving back. As the founders of Acoustic for a Change, they help nonprofit organizations raise money by providing musicians, event planning and marketing assistance.
For Mr. Echarte, the chance to give back is the culmination of a family odyssey that began in Cuba more than five decades ago.
"My family left in the late 1960s," he said. "My four older brothers were born in Cuba, and I was born three months after they arrived. I was the only one born here. My dad was a builder and property developer. He left all of that. My father started anew at 42. I have a lot of respect for that."
The family settled in Miami, but the space boom brought them to Cocoa Beach, where Mr. Echarte began school.
When the space program dwindled, the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, where Mr. Echarte was raised and attended high school. His father had a business there, and Mr. Echarte worked for his dad in the summer. He also attended Florida Atlantic University, majoring in psychology.
"I wanted to get into counseling," he said. "My grades were average and not good enough for a master's program."
Mr. Echarte had a cousin in Puerto Rico who was running a mailing business. The idea interested Mr. Echarte.
"I started doing courier work and mail processing," he said. "The business, Postal Center International, grew from scratch. Sue and I worked the business together for 28 years and eventually we burned out. We had to decide if we would sell it or have someone run it. It was a great decision to have someone else run it. I don't have to work day-to-day."
In addition to the Fort Lauderdale operation, PCI had a plant in Orlando. The Echartes kept a second home in Indialantic. The couple began to spend more time in Brevard County, an area Mr. Echarte remembered fondly from his childhood.
As they stepped away from work, the couple began looking for ways to give back to the community. Mr. Echarte played the guitar in college, had more time for music; and the couple began Acoustic for a Change, which they consider a ministry.
"The reason we call it a ministry is that our goal is to support charities and fundraising events, so they run smoothly," he said. "It's a way for them to have quality live music, whether by me or others. My wife is a wonderful event planner and she gives advice on planning details. Our company helps them market, using social marketing (tools), such as Constant Contact and email blasts. We try to support events, so they reach the next level. We're helping them take that event from raising $5,000 to $20,000."
Acoustic for a Change has assisted groups that include the Space Coast Symphony, Healthy Start Coalition, The Brevard Neighborhood Development Coalition, the Brevard Rescue Mission and the National Kidney Foundation. For the latter event, Susan Echarte brought Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, the original "Gidget," to Brevard for a showing of a film about the 1960s icon.
When Acoustic for a Change does an event, its staff only asks that the organization publicize its instrument donation program. That program takes donations of gently used instruments and donates them to children, whose families could not afford them. In addition to guitars, Mr. Echarte is looking for accordions, violins, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, keyboards and drums.
The program has donated instruments to Melbourne's Club Esteem music mentoring program and the Brevard Youth Symphony Orchestra, as well as to organizations in Cuba.
For the Echartes, the decision to help nonprofit groups raise money is an act of faith.
"Sue and I are Christians," he said. "We believe God has given us gifts to give back to the world."
For more information about Acoustics for a Change or to donate a gently used instrument, visit the new website www.acousticforachange.com, visit them on Facebook or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.