The sweet sounds of youth taking part in something positive filled an upstairs room of the Veterans Memorial Building Saturday morning.
Twenty students from the program, “Guitars Not Guns,” were strumming along to “La Bamba” with the instructors who had taught them for the past seven weeks.
The guitars, which they used in class and at home, were now their’s to enjoy forever, a final gift from the program that provides free guitar lessons to kids aged 8 to 18.
The eager strums was like sweet music to Mike Smith who piloted the program in San Benito County.
San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina, who was instrumental in helping the program get established in Hollister, said he feels the program will open many doors for the kids.
“I told these kids their first day, ‘this is something you’re going to take with you forever, you can play football or soccer until you’re in your 40s, but I know 85-year-old people who are still playing guitar,’” he said.
Smith said San Benito County Supervisors Jaime De La Cruz and Mark Medina each donated $500 from community-based allocation funds to help start the program. Hollister City Councilman Ray Friend purchased “Guitars Not Guns” T-shirts and provided the program with classroom space at the Veterans Memorial Building.
“We couldn’t have done the class without Ray Friend’s support,” Smith said.
Students and their families celebrated Saturday’s final session with a ceremony. Supervisors De La Cruz and Medina, as well as Councilman Friend, were present. All twenty students were rewarded with a certificate of completion and T-shirts, then celebrated their achievements with pizza and cake.
Veronica Lezama’s daughter Maya was one of the students to complete the class.
“I’ve definitely seen an improvement in her and I’m so excited to see her continue with it,” Lezama said.
Students proudly walked around with certificates in their hands and guitars on their backs.
“Just look at the faces of these kids. They actually have a guitar,” De La Cruz said.
De La Cruz hopes the program will continue to move forward and that this year’s class will be “a group of ambassadors for future classes.”
Before another course is offered, though, Smith said there are plans to complete the documentation in order for San Benito County to become an official chapter of Guitars Not Guns.
“Doing that will give us time to better plan future classes and fundraise for special events in 2018,” Smith said.
The next session may start early next year.