By Mike Kinney and Mike Aldax
Near the end of an eight-week stretch of guitar lessons at San Pablo Library this summer, a group of 25 young students were quizzed on what they learned, and asked what they liked or didn’t like about the program.
Among the responses that stood out came from a 16-year-old girl.
“I was able to escape from problems in the family,” the teen wrote. “I love this program, it changed my life.”
The program, Guitars Not Guns, is a national, volunteer-run organization that, for the first time this summer, was offered at San Pablo Library on Tuesday nights.
Founded in 2000, Guitars Not Guns provides free lessons, and also guitars, to at risk youth and foster children. San Pablo Library’s program is the first offered in West County for several years. On Tuesday, it held its graduation, where the kids were stunned with the news that they get to keep the guitars they’ve been learning on.
The program is the brainchild of foster parents Ray and Louise Nelson. Ray, a working musician, began teaching his kids guitar and noticed they were doing better in school, gaining encouragement and becoming generally happier. He decided to provide other foster kids with guitars and lessons, reaching out to friends and strangers for used guitars.
Founded after the Columbine shooting, Guitars Not Guns grew into a national organization aimed at helping prevent violence through a youth enrichment program. Contra Costa County has had a chapter for well over a decade.
Gorin started out as an instructor 11 years ago and now wears a lot of hats for a volunteer position, but she says the pay off is the satisfaction that she’s using her skills to inspire youth and communities.
The program is on the constant look out for donated guitars, guitar repair services and instructors.
“I have 10 guitars right now that are pretty good guitars, but they all need repairs,” Gorin said. “For the past three years, we’ve been struggling to find instructors.”
Gorin said Jay Kirkland, a Richmond native and the program’s vice president of special projects, was instrumental in getting the program started this summer in San Pablo Library.
The library offered “a big room with plenty of light,” Gorin said. The room shined a bright light on emerging young personalities.While many participating students were shy at the onset of the program, in short time “they were singing out loud and proud,” Gorin said. On Tuesday, students performed songs including Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds in front of their families.
Among the program’s local sponsors, some which donated items such as guitar straps, strings, swag, etc., are D’Addario Foundation, Ernie Ball, Dunlop, LM Products, Reunion Blues, Pig Hog, Stage Ninga, Global Truss, Hot Picks, Pickworld and Pikcard.
Antonio Medrano, former West Contra Costa County School Board member and coordinator of the San Pablo Library Book Sale, donated pizza another food for graduation day.
Along with Gorin and Kirkland, the Contra Costa County chapter of Guitars not Guns is made possible with help from Secretary Deborah McKim, Treasurer Bruce Johnson and VP of Instruction Brooks Lundy.