Rawkstars with Guitars not Guns

Whitney Houston was right when she said ‘Children are the future’, and without stuff to do kids get bored and when they get bored bad stuff happens. Sometimes too, the support or money is not their from their family to nurture their interests and talents. I heard about 2 brilliant projects in the US that were giving kids who might not otherwise have a chance to learn an instrument (and have lots of fun).

Guitars Not Guns

Guitars not Guns was founded by Ray and Louise Nelson to combat gang violence with guitars. It provides a music programme and instruments for ‘at risk’ teens and other deserving children.

Ray: By stimulating a child’s creativity at an early age we can divert them away from the dangers of crime and gang activities.
It’s first guitar class started with two volunteer teachers in San Jose, CA in 2002, now over 500 kids per year enroll in the USA an Canada, and they hope to expand further afield soon.
Ray: Watching them smile when they get it right. is the most rewarding thing for me

They also own some pretty amazing vehicles, a ‘Guitar Car’ and a ‘Guitar Bike’, that’s in Ripley’s as the only guitar ever rode across the US coast to coast. Take a look!


Rawkstars began in 2003 and enrolled its first student in November 2004. I spoke to Joanthan Jacobs, founder and Executive Director for more info.

How did Rawkstars come about?
It was the culmination of my lifelong passion for music, we started with a core mission of delivering free instruments and music lessons to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford it. In the ensuing years, we have developed group music programming, studio recording projects and supported college bound students interested in pursuing a career in music.

Rawkstars has partnered with several organizations who focus on youth, including The Boys & Girls Club, The Home For Little Wanderers, Dana Farber and Children’s Hospital. In 2010, we are piloting an after school music program with The Passim School of Music and Prospect Hill Academy, a charter school located in Cambridge, MA.

Rawk Stars SuccessWhy do you think learning an instrument can be good for kids?
Being involved with music is a gateway to learning life skills because it uses a medium that kids relate to. Participation in music teaches discipline, self confidence, teamwork and accomplishment through hard work. In recent years, there has also been a tremendous amount of scientific research confirming the links between learning music and positive social impact, learning skills and personal well being. Rawkstars sees music as the vehicle, not the destination.

How many kids are helped by Rawkstars?
Since our first student enrolled in 2004, Rawkstars has served over 50 youth in the Greater Boston area with weekly lessons from a certified music teacher for a period of 6 months (all funded by Rawkstars). The students can then also go on to apply for further tuition funding.

Where does the money come from?
Each year, Rawkstars hosts several fundraising events, including a summer celebration known as “The Rawk N’ Roll Softball Game” and several “Rawkshows” featuring area musicians who support our cause. We surpassed the $125,000 cumulative funds mark in 2010 and have received contributions from over 1,000 unique donors and businesses. Approximately 10% of our funding comes in the form of grants.

Do you have plans to expand it to other areas of the country (or world)?

In time, we would like to expand our program offerings to the remaining New England states and potentially beyond. Much of our programming is not location specific, and was designed to remain scalable. In the near term, we plan to continue to focus on the Boston area, helping kids right in our local community.

One of the success stories of Rawkstars is Mia Boostrom (above), she joined the programme in 2008 with lots of talent but little experience. Within a year she had reached the top 40 of NBC’s Americas got Talent. She is now working with big name producers and is releasing her material through Rawkstar Records (the recording arm of Rawkstars).

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