Program founded by Peachtree City resident seeking volunteers

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 9:23am
By: Michael Boylan

Program founded by Peachtree City resident seeking volunteers Ray and Louise Nelson outside the Acosti Car. Photo/Michael Boylan.

You never know what’s going to change the world.

Ray Nelson, a career musician who had dabbled in acting, had no idea that his love of music and his decision to care for foster children with his wife, Louise, would lead to forming a program that has received world-wide recognition that grows larger by the day. And yet, with chapters in 15 states, Canada and more chapters coming soon in England, Australia and Italy, Nelson’s idea, Guitars not Guns, has put guitars in the hands of foster kids and at-risk youth and has musicians and people wanting to reach out and help children come together.

“In 1992, I had burned out of playing music professionally and my wife and I decided to take in foster kids,” said Nelson, a Peachtree City resident. The Nelsons took in four teenagers, two boys and two girls, and during the process of learning how to care for foster kids, learned how difficult things were for older foster kids who typically move a lot and tend to sabotage themselves. Nelson, who had a lot of musical friends in the San Jose, Calif., got his colleagues to donate some old guitars to give to foster kids. Soon, single moms and therapeutic homes, among others, were calling and asking for donated guitars as well. When one friend wanted to donate a more valuable guitar and write it off on his taxes, Nelson looked into becoming a non-profit and soon began offering guitar lessons as well.

Nelson and his friends established a program that features two levels and its own lesson book. The class model is still followed today. Each class, has three teachers, one lead and two assistants, and meets for one hour every week for eight weeks. The students in level one move up to level two and work on some tougher stuff and after that form bands or start teaching classes themselves.

“It feels good to see a charity that actually works,” said Nelson. Louise agreed, adding, “playing music develops both sides of the brain and we hear all the time about how kids in this program start doing better in school, focus better and become team players.”

Guitars not Guns, which spread from California and started building its way up the east coast once the Nelsons moved to Georgia, has offered classes in Marietta, Newnan, Augusta, Christian City and Peachtree City with programs being launched soon in Statesboro and Athens, as well. There is always a need for teachers and the Nelsons stated that there is a definite need in Fayette County as classes will start in Peachtree City again soon and Fayetteville is hoping to launch a program as well. Classes in Peachtree City are offered at The Bridge Community Center on Sundays from 4-5 p.m.

“One hour a week is not too much to give when you are changing the world,” said Nelson. “We need volunteers and some help here, but no matter where. If you’re interested in starting a chapter, visit”

The teachers follow the Guitars not Guns gudebook and go through background checks and Guitars not Guns provides books and the first 10 guitars for the students. As business and people hear about the program in the community, donations tend to come in. Guitars not Guns has received items and help from the Gibson Foundation, Ernie Ball, Guitar Center and more.

“We’ve had 1,000 kids served across the United States and Canada to date and we’re very proud of that,” said Nelson, who added that you never know how far your work goes. He recalled getting a request for a guitar from some kids in Romania who wanted to start a band.

“We just count our blessings,” said Louise. “You do the right thing and everything falls into place.”

“It has grown beyond my imagination,” Nelson added.

Louise is the president of the Georgia Chapter and she is aided by Fayetteville residents Robert Jackson (VP) and Victoria Blair (Secretary and Treasurer). Blair was looking for a place to donate clothers, saw Guitars not Guns on a list of non-profits and passed the information on to Jackson. Soon, both were members of the board, teaching in the program and traveling to spread the word.

“We do as much as we can,” said Blair.

“I have loved every minute of it,” Jackson stated, adding that the program is not anti-gun. “I’m an NRA member. Guitars not Guns is anti gun violence, not anti hunting or self defense. We don’t ask people to turn in their guns for guitars. It is a children’s charity, out to give troubled kids a better outlet and funnel their emotions into music and good things.”

Since its inception there have been many good things for Guitars not Guns and its graduates. One added bonus is that a number of parents have sat in on classes with their children and started to learn to play guitar as well, practicing during the week.

“A family that sings and plays together, stays together,” said Nelson.

Guitars not Guns continues to spread the word. Nelson has taken his Guitar car, the “Acousti Car” and the Guitcycle to numerous events, including a recent one at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta. He has also driven the Guitcycle across the country twice and both vehicles have been featured on television and in periodicals around the world. Local residents have likely seen both vehicles driving around and catching people’s eyes and capturing their attention. It is Nelson’s hope that the vehicles and articles like this one will drive people with a passion for music or helping kids to donate some time to their organization.

For more information on the local chapter of Guitars not Guns, visit or phone 770-487-8007.

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Submitted by remedyband on Wed, 08/05/2009 - 2:29pm.

What a great article about a couple of giving people. Fayetteville's Remedy Band looks forward to participating in this month's graduation and hopes to be able to provide additional support to the foundation in the near future.

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