Strumming for Fun

Guitar Society volunteer helps kids access music education

By Jessica Laskey
December 2019

Sept. 11 was a turning point for many people for many reasons. But for Lili Williams, it was a wakeup call that she wanted to do more for her local community.

“I saw that something like that could happen in our community tomorrow, so I decided to do something closer to home that would be impactful,” the Midtown resident says.

After working as a technical writer for Intel for 22 years, Lili Williams retired and promptly bought OSC Computer Training, a licensed private adult vocational school serving unemployed workers and U.S. veterans, which she ran with her husband for 10 years. But something was still missing, so she turned her attention to the organization that had brought her joy for years—the Sacramento Guitar Society.

“I’d been a longtime patron of the Guitar Society’s concerts,” says Williams, who plays the guitar as well as the piano. “It was a peaceful thing to go to when I was under stress at Intel.”

Williams was traveling in Spain when she received an email from the nonprofit arts and education organization—which offers guitar classes as well as concerts—about a grant they had just received to fund a series of free classes called Strum for Fun for disadvantaged kids. That’s when the lightbulb went off.

“I thought, here’s something I love—guitar—and something I’m passionate about—kids,” Williams says. “That’s what I can do in retirement. I can write grants for the Guitar Society.”

Lili Williams transformed herself overnight into an independent grant writer and offered her services free of charge to the organization. When the board asked why she thought she could write grants with no formal experience, Williams’ answer was easy.

“I’ve been a technical writer at Intel. I’ve done marketing. I’ve worked with the state of California on licensing for the vocational school. And I’m passionate about helping kids,” Williams says. “Writing is just the tool—it’s all about the function you want to get out of it.”

The board brought her on in October 2016 and Williams immediately went to work helping the Guitar Society develop a better system to not only apply for grants, but also keep track of fulfilling them.

A few months later, an impressed board asked Williams to assume the presidency, but she declined—she was happy writing grants. The board finally persuaded her to take the helm in June 2017. During her tenure, Williams saw to it that the organization got an infusion of “new blood and new enthusiasm,” as well as a much-needed technological overhaul, which included implementing a new membership and donor management system, and a new website built by Williams.

The past three years have certainly been hard work, but Williams is passionate about fulfilling the two tenets of volunteerism that are most important to her.

“Any nonprofit’s mission can be boiled down to social justice and equity,” explains Williams, who also serves on the board of Square Root Academy, which brings STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to schools in low-income neighborhoods. She’s also a former president of the Bradshaw Business Park Owners Association and a former board member of the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s about how you as an individual approach the nonprofit,” she says. “My approach is to give back to the community through music education for disadvantaged kids. There are so many studies that show the connection between arts/music education and academic achievement. That’s the social justice part—parents who aren’t well-off can’t purchase that critical music education for their kids, but now they have access through the Sacramento Guitar Society.”

For more information, visit sacguitarsociety.org. Don’t miss the Annual Community Holiday Concert on Sunday, Dec. 15, from 3 to 5 p.m. at The Auditorium at CLARA at 1425 24th St.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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