Chad Bernstein, an alumnus of the Frost School of Music, is helping provide musical mentorship to at-risk students through the Guitars Over Guns Organization (GOGO).
GOGO is an after-school program that matches local musicians with students at North Miami Middle School and Allapattah Middle School once a week to teach music.
Bernstein came up with the idea for the organization while working with at-risk kids shortly after moving to Miami in 2002.
A friend of Bernstein’s, who was a teacher, convinced him to volunteer in local Miami public schools, teaching and performing for underprivileged kids, including kids with disabilities and those in juvenile detention centers. Bernstein had always had “an intense desire to do good” and, after having volunteered only a short time, he was hooked.
After graduating from UM in 2006, Bernstein was given a full scholarship to complete his master’s degree. He founded the nonprofit foundation GOGO during this time.
The GOGO program was born out of a strong wish to provide kids with the opportunity to learn how to play music, an opportunity that Bernstein saw disappearing from school curriculums and budgets.
“With so many of our middle schoolers having never touched an instrument, we feel a responsibility to pay forward the same opportunities to be exposed to music that we had as young people,” Bernstein said.
The three components of the GOGO program are mentoring, instrument training and ensemble instruction, which Bernstein sees as equally important in the curriculum. Although he believes a structured curriculum is critical to success, he also believes it is important to listen to the kids and deviate from the curriculum when necessary.
Bernstein’s own experience with spontaneous teaching occurred when his students asked to go to the beach.
“I asked why they wanted to go to the beach so bad, and they said that they have never been there,” he said. “They live in Miami, miles away from the beach, and they had never been. It broke my heart.”
Gary Lindsay, a UM Frost School professor, the program director for studio jazz writing and a GOGO donor, has long been a loyal supporter of the organization.
“GOGO is offering these students, through mentorship, positive and nurturing role model,” he said. “For some, their music lesson may be the only positive experience for the week.”
Sherrine Mostin, GOGO’s program director, works with Bernstein to develop the curriculum.
While she loves working with GOGO, she admits that working with these kids, who are often emotionally and socially unstable, is a challenge.
“One of the most challenging aspects I found was working with the kids who are unruly and disruptive,” she said. “But as one might expect, the ones who are very hard to deal with usually turn out to be the kids who need it the most.”
Mentor volunteering is open to all UM students, and teaching takes place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday with the possibility of Saturday opportunities in the near future.
For more information about Guitars Over Guns, email Chad Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 847-420-6327. Internships and volunteer positions are available.
Visit guitarsoverguns.org to find out about upcoming events. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Featured photo courtesy of Andy Melton on Flickr.