• August 2011

'Guitars Not Guns' Makes a Difference in Kids' Lives

By Skip Chaples
Guitars Not Guns

Research shows a powerful correlation between music education and a person’s success in life.

Youth involved in quality music programs tend to do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, be less inclined to engage in risky behavior, and be more inclined to take advantage of positive opportunities made available to them.

That’s why the after-school music and mentoring program Guitars Not Guns is making such an incredible impact.

Uniquely tailored to help youth living under adverse circumstances, such as poverty, dysfunctional families, or challenged communities—the program was founded in California in 2000. It made its way to Northern Virginia in February 2006 as a tribute to an 18-year-old Eagle Scout and aspiring professional guitar player who was tragically shot to death.

Seven students comprised the first class at an Alexandria Boys & Girls Club. Today, Guitars Not Guns operates as the National Capital Area affiliate, serving more than 350 students at 32 different locations throughout the DC region.

Making Music = Success

“As a parent of a child currently enrolled in one of the Guitars Not Guns programs, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you and your organization,” says parent M. Pritchard. “This program has given my son a unique opportunity not only to learn guitar, but to develop a skill that is building his self-esteem. This year has been a particular struggle for us in that my son has had two surgeries that have kept him on crutches for a long period of time. Guitars not Guns has been a terrific outlet that has allowed him to stay active as he has faced physical challenges.”

Music also helps a young person’s social development. Learning to play an instrument teaches discipline, builds self-esteem, and develops self-confidence. It’s a positive outlet for emotions and is one of the few activities that can be enjoyed by anyone; there is no stereotypical image based on gender, race, national origin, or physical attributes.

“I reached level B2. Because of that, I continued to learn guitar on my own,” says former student Hannah. “In fact, one of the biggest things that my teacher, Mr. Webb, taught me is that ‘practice makes perfect, if you make perfect practice.’ That inspired me to make the best practice I could with everything I was doing. I would like to possibly volunteer for Guitars Not Guns, and hope to open doors for other children, just how this program did for me.”

Youth engaged in a music program tend to meet a broader spectrum of other youth who share the same interest. This exposure helps them understand and appreciate their differences, an important consideration in today’s diverse society.

Guitars Not Guns uses music as the vehicle to capture the attention and spark the imagination of young people in need of support and guidance.

Our goal is to improve their lives; we achieve that goal through their participation in our music program and our instructors’ mentoring.

“I love this fantastic charity,” says program teacher Wilson Newell. “Guitars Not Guns has played a significant role in my life ever since I stumbled on its website three years ago. It has changed not only the kids who were helped through it but me as well. Some of them I honestly believe will continue their music, a thing they would have had no access at all to had it not been for Guitars Not Guns, but I know that just being given the opportunity to try was huge for all of them. I’ll never forget my experiences with those kids, and I hope to spread awareness of this organization to other places around and encourage others who wish to do the same.”

Here’s what others are saying about this incredible program.

Parent, J. Edeke: “I’m the mom of the August 2010 guitar raffle winner. I just want to say that my daughter really enjoys her guitar; she has even named it “Cedar.” She was absolutely floored when she won! She has slowly made good progress (at least it sounds like it!), using the book that was included. I am glad that a music organization like this exists; it is much needed for the youth in and around DC.”

Student, Chris: “I started guitar lessons with Guitar Not Guns last year and am ready to start the next session. The classes have been great. The teachers are encouraging, patient, and entertaining, and they work to my level and musical interests. I enjoy it and actually play at home now! The recital at the end of last session was impressive. The kids and teachers all performed and put on an amazing show. Guitar Not Guns is a great program.”

Supporter, Bunnie: “The work of Guitars Not Guns is even more important in today’s economic environment where schools are cutting arts programs. GNG serves low-income children in DC whose parents cannot afford to purchase instruments or lessons for them. These children are also heavily at risk for joining gangs. GNG provides a positive and creative outlet—learning to play guitar—that helps introduce young children to the arts and lets them know that they have other options besides getting involved with violence.

Supporter, G. Eakes: “The growth in this program in the National Capital Area astonishes, from around 25 participants in 2006 to now more than 300. The program is based on a great idea: to provide opportunities that otherwise may not exist for at-risk kids to learn to play a guitar. Learning to play an instrument, whether it is the guitar or any other instrument, provides so many more benefits than just learning the instrument. This program builds self-esteem and provides an alternative path rather than one that is self-destructive.”

Teacher, Thomas: “A coworker and guitarist challenged me to volunteer in the GNG program and I took the challenge. Instructing small groups of little fingers and hands moving up and down their new guitar neck together making music was beyond my expectations. To hear boys dreaming of playing with their “buds” and girls strumming and singing a new song takes one back to the beginnings. Success means practicing and that takes time and that time keeps them focused, along with a weekly commitment to attend the lessons. Witnessing the smiles and claps from parents and friends of these young musicians upon graduation is the reason GNG does impact my local community and needs your support as well.”

Teacher, Dan Telfer: “A student named Michael has hands that are severely physically impaired. I got him to be able to form a G chord and taught him a couple songs he could strum along with the other kids. Pretty soon this shy and reclusive teen was singing with gusto and a great big smile that melted my heart.”

Professional musician, J.P. Reali: “Guitars Not Guns is a great organization. They introduce music through guitar playing to urban youth at risk of gun violence. Music not only gives them an alternative to hanging out on the street, where trouble lurks around every corner, it also gives them the unique satisfaction of having created something that truly makes the world a better place.”

Join us on September 10, 2011

You are invited to our first annual Guitars Not Guns benefit concert at GMU’s Performing Arts Center. Legendary acoustic folk-rock artists Jonathan Edwards, known for his gold mega-hit “Sunshine,” and Jesse Colin Young, critically acclaimed solo artist and lead singer of the classic rock band The Youngbloods, will perform individually with their bands for one night only.

Purchase tickets online by clicking here. or by phone at 1-888-946-2468.

To learn more about Guitars Not Guns, and how you can help them make a difference in the lives of deserving youth, visit www.gngnca.org.

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