Friends, French Fries and Philanthropy

Friends, French Fries and Philanthropy

by Chicago mentor Adam Stein Adam here, one of the Guitars Over Guns mentors. Not only have I been privileged to see my Evergreen Academy students grow musically and maturely, but I have also felt myself grow. My confidence as a leader and strength as a representative of this organization have become, unforeseeably, life-changing. To confirm my growth within the organization, I was recently asked to accept a donation on behalf of Guitars Over Guns – a true honor and an incredible reassurance that I was in the right line of work. The sugar on top was accepting this donation with one of my best students, Ricardo Flores, by my side. The donation was an incredible gift from Röhlig of four custom-built guitars. Awesome! A little unsure and apprehensive, we walked through the hall of Chicago Athletic Association, and there we found Röhlig’s team-building event. It was an honor to strut through alongside Ricardo and Chicago Regional Director Andrew DeMuro, as well as fascinating to see this type of production. Andrew explained our mission to the group, and I shared a few words. Finally, Ricardo shared a moving story that had the room silent…and a bit choked up. In retrospect, this process was much easier than I expected because of how passionate I am about this organization. Furthermore, it is easy to talk about something you love and effortless to promote a business that is looking out for the youth in your city. When your boss and your students are also your close friends, it never feels like working. Nothing is more rewarding. Before we officially left, Ricardo had...
This Girl Has Rhythm

This Girl Has Rhythm

by Chicago Regional Director Andrew DeMuro What words come to mind when you see the young drummer in this photo? For me, focused, determined, and driven are all at the forefront. Believe it or not, Yailin Rojas — a South Side Chicago native and the daughter of Mexican immigrants — hardly embodied those traits when she first came to Guitars Over Guns. I remember Yailin as a 6th grader at Evergreen Academy Middle School — a bright-eyed, 11-year-old live wire who couldn’t decide where to invest her time. On a given afternoon, Yailin could be found playing basketball, painting the class mural, or performing in the drumline. Today, Yailin cites her constant bouncing between activities as her search for a more permanent home — a place where she could be herself and truly test the limits of her own capabilities. She found that home in Guitars Over Guns. Since a rocky 6th grade year which saw her leave and rejoin the group on three distinct occasions, Yailin settled in as lead drummer in the Guitars Over Guns rock band, and has become one of our most committed young musicians in the Chicago region. A fiend for a good challenge, Yailin has relished in opportunities to audition for select ensembles, lead band rehearsals, try new instruments (she already knows five), and perform original music. She’s shared her talents with peers from every corner of our city as a member of the CPS All-City Band, and at venues ranging from the United Center, Do Division Street Fest and Reggie’s Rock Club, to the Ronald McDonald House, Mariano’s Market, and the McKinley...
Chicago students release a “beautiful” new music video

Chicago students release a “beautiful” new music video

Have you seen the latest music video from our Chicago students? Their awesome cover of Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful,” dropped on July 20 and has touched the hearts of so many viewers. In fact, the students at Evergreen Academy Middle School chose the song “not just for the music, but for the message.” The students say that the decision was easy “because the song has a message that other people need to hear, especially now.” They want the audience to know “that they’re beautiful – whoever and wherever they are.” Once the song was chosen, it was time to record! The Evergreen Academy students fearlessly accepted the challenge of recording in only one day – a daunting task requiring top-notch musicianship and professionalism. Our partners from 35th Street Studios and Tall Tale Productions documented the process. Reflecting on the experience, our Chicago students want their audience to know that “recording is a long process. It requires a lot of patience, focus, and nonverbal communication. You end up waiting around and being quiet for most of the day, so you really have to trust in yourself and in your bandmates. Drummers have it especially tough because they have to play to a click track, which makes the song sound perfectly on beat.” The result of one long day’s work is a beautiful music video featuring 22 students ranging from 6th to 8th grade. For the video, mentor Phil Jacobson had students create individual posters to describe what beauty looks, sounds, and feels like to them. Responses ranged from “Peace is Beautiful,” to “Hoodies are Beautiful,” to “Tacos son Bonitos.” Our...
Mentors Share Stories Through Drawing

Mentors Share Stories Through Drawing

We asked our mentors to share their favorite Guitars Over Guns experiences by drawing them out. Overwhelmingly, what they shared through images and words were stories of youth who didn’t know their own potential until they joined the program, and mentors who were sometimes just as affected as those they’ve taught. We are reminded once again that our mentors are not just teaching music; they are, in many ways, saving lives. See what inspires our mentors to carry out the work they do with our students every day. Mentor Jessica F. “At the #Superfriends program at Williams Park, there was one student in my group named Nathan. Nathan was in 4th grade. He had behavioral issues in and out of school on a daily basis. He was often defiant and disruptive when it was time to listen or during instruction, and was withdrawn during moments of class sharing. But Nathan deserved an opportunity to grow. As the sessions progressed, I questioned whether Nathan truly wanted to be in the program since the first time around he was actually assigned to be in my group. When the second semester came around and students had the opportunity to choose their new groups, Nathan ran to my section. I asked him if he was sure and he nodded his head enthusiastically. As the semester progressed, his behavior, his rhythmic abilities, improvisation and emotional sharing through creative activity increased drastically. Nathan is one pretty awesome kid and I look forward to seeing him again this year.” Mentor Stephanie Fravel “On Mother’s Day, I watched a group of GOGO students perform an original song...
Niles North High School Visit

Niles North High School Visit

By Mentor Andre Daniels, aka. Add-2 Two different cultures from two different parts of Chicago coming together through a mutual love for one thing: creative expression. Last year I had the honor of being one of Niles North High School’s speakers during their annual Writers Week. This year they wanted to come to my environment to get more insight of my creative process and to hopefully inspire theirs. As the students walked into the basement of the community center not knowing what to expect they were pleasantly surprised to see the studio, music equipment and a projector with a Nintendo Wii on. Not your average writing environment to say the least. As both Niles North students and Haven mentees joined in a circle, we discussed our various inspirations, shared some of our art (writing, sketching and singing) but things took a dramatic but powerful turn after we had a paperball fight. I asked them to write their insecurities on a piece of paper then ball it up and we proceeded to throw them all around the room. When we joined back together we put the paper in the middle of the floor and shared our insecurities without using the paper. Then magic happened. The students all began to open up about their experiences, their fears, their struggles, their pain and things they haven’t exposed to each other. Through their honesty and vulnerability they were able to see how many of their peers were ready to catch them as if they were human safety nets. They were able to see that many of us shared the same insecurities and that...