After three incidents in three years where DC native Greg Hammond was attacked, assaulted and held at gunpoint by youth in the area, Hammond decided it was time address the problem — in a peaceful manner. With a background in youth mentoring and music, Hammond started DC’s affiliate of Guitars Not Guns, a nonprofit program founded in 2000 in California that has since expanded to other states and cities.
Hammond explains that Guitars Not Guns is a vehicle to capture the attention and spark the imagination of young people in need of support and guidance. The goal of the program is to improve lives through the benefits derived from music and mentoring.
“Research has shown a strong correlation between music education and a person’s success in life,” says Hammond. “Youth involved in quality music programs tend to do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, be less inclined to engage in risky behavior and are more inclined to take advantage of positive opportunities made available to them.”
Guitars Not Guns of the National Capital Area — the arm of the program for DC, Maryland and Virginia — consists of about 10 volunteer teachers and holds classes at about 32 different locations, including the Rita Bright Family & Youth Center (2500 14th St NW) and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School (770 Kenyon Street NW).
Hammond says most kids come to the program through word-of-mouth. Once the kids come to a location where the program is run, they learn “Set Me Free,” the Guitars Not Guns anthem, and can participate in other performances.
“One student who came to my class was known by all of the school therapists as the ‘silent one’ who wouldn’t talk to anyone at the school. I handed a guitar to her, played the song ‘Set Me Free’ — I had that student talking before the end that class,” says Hammond. “The teachers claimed it was a miracle. The therapists at the school requested permission to attend my classes. I agreed. They came each time to observe why the results where so strong.”
After students learn the anthem, they are invited to continue learning and are encouraged to participate in assisting teachers with new students working in a level one class.
Hammond works for 40-plus hours a week as the president and many other rolls for the organization, including teacher, fundraising administrator, secretary, treasurer and recruiter — all as a volunteer. To earn living, Hammond teachers guitar at his guitar studio, bakes cookies for realtors and other office personnel and is a musician in The Gregg Hammond Band.
“I went with very little sleep for a couple of years,” says Hammond.
Hammond says he is always in need of new volunteers for the organization, and that not all volunteers need to be musicians. “We need people to operate the program as well as teach,” explains Hammond.
Some available volunteer positions include program administrator, teacher, teacher assistant, business liaison, recruiter and database developer. Those interested in volunteering can email Greg at gregg[AT]dcguitarlessons.com.
“Set Me Free” is available on iTunes; all profits go towards Guitars Not Guns.