Teen volunteers with guitar at cancer center

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WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — He won't accept tips. He's not there to build a musical following, and his community service requirement ended weeks ago.

But Nick Moniz, a 17-year-old Naugatuck resident and Gunnery senior, can't get enough of the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center.

While his peers hit the beach or sleep in, Nick spends four hours a week quietly strumming his guitar in the cancer center's lobby for free.

When Nick embarked on a community service project required for his 2015 graduation from the private school in Washington, Conn., he immediately thought of the cancer center.

"I've seen people playing music in lobbies before, but not anywhere like this. I like to play, and I thought I may as well help people at the same time," said Nick, who took one year of guitar lessons eight years ago and has been self-taught since. "I wanted to give something back. My sister and my dad both had cancer. And I get a lot of smiles here, so it makes my day."

Nick's sister -- his only sibling -- is 25 and lives in Atlanta. She had thyroid cancer when she was in college and Nick was in seventh grade.

"It was scary for me. She's been there a lot for me in life, and then I was the one she had to lean on," said Nick, an avid bicyclist and member of his school's cross-country team.

His sister has been cancer-free for five years, and his father, who had tongue and throat cancer, has been in remission for one year.

"Both of their cancers were caught early enough so they were treatable, but it still makes you wake up and think," Nick said, pausing to tinker with his portable Bose speaker system.

The Gunnery community service project requires 50 hours of work. He plowed through the 10 he allotted for the cancer center quickly and the remainder will be spent in emergency medical technician training with a volunteer fire department in Oxford starting next month.

Moniz is interested in a career in radiology, as a radiologist or maybe a physician assistant.

Nick, wearing a red T-shirt, khaki shorts and Nike running shoes, nestled into an arm chair against the wall in the center's main lobby. He played acoustic guitar to the sound of John Mayer singing a quiet blues song.

Last week, he brought his electric guitar to the center, but is waiting on a new amplifier before he can do that again.

His playing is soft and hardly audible outside the lobby. Nick plucked at his six-string while a woman with a shaved head breezed past en route to the treatment area, and a man in a wheelchair went by.

"Hi sweetie," one woman called to him as she passed through.

"Whatcha playing?" Gerard Murphy stopped to ask.

Murphy, a former Southbury resident who now lives in Alabama, was at the center with his wife, a breast-cancer survivor who comes north once a year to see her Leever physician.

"I like to tip musicians whenever I see them playing somewhere in public because I feel like they are adding to the atmosphere," Murphy said.

But Nick's guitar case was firmly closed behind him. And when someone tried to leave him money the other day, he promptly returned it, said Deborah Parkinson, operations manager at the center.

"We are so lucky he had some hours to use. We've had people come and play keyboard here before, and this just adds to the relaxing environment we are trying to create," Parkinson said. "For such a young man, Nick is very possessed. Our patients and everyone who works here have been saying how serene and peaceful it is with him playing."

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Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com

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