This article was written by BenitoLink intern Juliana Luna
On Nov. 19, the first class of the San Benito County chapter of Guitars Not Guns took home memorable gifts and important life lessons. On top of that, family and guests witnessed the result of an eight-week course in a concert featuring the 10 graduating students ages 8-17.
The national nonprofit music program collaborated with Youth Alliance during the fall to guide students on a journey of learning and discovering their potential by offering guitar lessons during after-school hours. Each student was supplied with a guitar, carrying case, strap, tuner, and instruction booklet.
After completing the first level, students are allowed to keep their instrument and have the option to pursue a more complex and advanced music lesson during January. Former members of the Monterey County chapter and new members joined to establish a connection to music in the minds of young people. Previously, the Monterey County chapter offered the program in Hollister.
The San Benito County chapter aims to expand its student capacity and is searching for instructors to join its mission. The chapter plans to offer classes in San Juan Bautista and Aromas in 2023.
The team behind San Benito Guitars Not Guns are Director Shawn Herrera, Assistant Director Steve Harris, Bob Quaid, Ramona Hill, Richard Primont and Bruce Gilsenan.
“I’m finding out the kids have fewer things to do than when I grew up, there are no drive-in movies anymore. There’s no bowling anymore. They play outside a lot more. This program gives the students something to do with their mind and physically with their hands and it’s also mathematical,” said Harris.
“I was new to it in the beginning and at the end, I got a hang of it,” said 12-year-old Gianna Moreno. “I learned four songs, the chords, and the chord progression.”
“A Horse with No Name” by the folk-rock band America was one the first songs taught in the courses and the one Moreno found to be the most memorable.
“Throughout the courses, students learned about time management and achieving gratification from mind, body, and spirit,” said Herrerra. “Music does not discriminate, it’s free and not limited.”
Herrera added the title behind the organization doesn’t mean they’re anti-gun, but it means to help students understand they can pursue something greater than violence.
For 17-year-old Davin Espinoza, being the oldest in the class meant helping the younger students.
“I always wanted to learn an instrument,” said Espinoza. “Learning takes time and patience. It opens new doors to opportunities. I help students who have more experience than me and in that way, I learn from them.”
Harris told BenitoLink the chapter is thankful for the grant from the Community Foundation for San Benito County. The grant is enough to cover their costs for a year, including the purchase of student guitars and related supplies.
“I learned that things are never perfect. Music helps me be happy by playing,” said 10-year-old Isabella Muñoz, who also plays saxophone and piano.
“The teachers treat us nice and they explain better than my other music teachers,” said Muñoz. She will be continuing on to Level 2 with Guitars Not Guns.
Her mother, Isabel Muñoz, said Isabella feels more connected with the community.
“Kids participating in any kind of after-school program means they know there are no limits,” she said. “If they connect with the community they can search and look for help.”
The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid, skill-building program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.