Guitars Not Guns donation
Bradley Union School District Superintendent/President Josh Van Norman (middle) attends the April 22 guitar distribution in Salinas. (Randy Tunnell)

KING CITY — The Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns, in conjunction with the Monterey County Office of Education, distributed 200 Keith Urban Yamaha Guitars, along with Gator guitar cases, to 10 school districts in South Monterey County on April 22.

Thanks to Monterey County Gives, an annual charitable giving campaign, the local grassroots organization received more than $25,000 in donations this year from nearly 200 donors, making this the largest all-at-once guitar donation in the history of Guitars Not Guns.

“We are so grateful for this extremely generous donation and we’re thrilled to help support this important nonprofit that will help music programs in South County thrive,” said Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss.

Guitars Not Guns is a nonprofit charity providing guitars and lessons to at-risk youth in an effort to offer them with an alternative to violence. In the past 13 years, the Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns has helped more than 3,000 local children.

This year the Chapter’s Monterey County Gives’ “Big Idea” was to build on their ongoing musical programs and help ensure that all schools have access to guitars and related accessories. Once the funds were secured, Chapter Director Steve Vagnini contacted Guss, who helped identify schools in need of support for musical programs.

The following South Monterey County school districts received guitars: Bradley, Chualar, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City, Mission, San Antonio, San Lucas, Soledad and South Monterey County Joint Union High School District (SMCJUHSD).

Guitars Not Guns donation
SMCJUHSD Superintendent Caroline Cota (from left) joins Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns Director Steve Vagnini, MCOE Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss, KCHS Music Director David Bakken and KCUSD Music Teacher Gail Olson for the guitar distribution event on April 22. (Randy Tunnell)

“King City High School received 20 guitars from the Guitars Not Guns organization. We are thrilled for their support of our music program,” said Superintendent Caroline Cota of SMCJUHSD. “Our new music director is working hard to rebuild a program that has suffered since the pandemic. These guitars will assist him in increasing the variety of music options available to tap into students’ interests.”

According to David Bakken, music director at King City High School, the donated steel-string acoustic guitars will be used in conjunction with the school’s classical guitar program, and will result in “improving the blues and rock opportunities” for students.

“Our sincerest thanks to Guitars Not Guns for their generosity and compassion for student musicianship,” Bakken said.

In 2010, the Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns was formed, and over the years, the all-volunteer nonprofit has grown into the most active and vibrant chapter in the country. Many students who benefited from this organization are now playing in bands in Monterey County and beyond.

Vagnini, who co-founded the Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns, has served as the chair of the National Board of the organization for the past three years and has helped open chapters in San Benito, Marin and Sonoma counties in California, as well as a new chapter in Chicago, Ill. He attended last week’s distribution at the Monterey County Office of Education in Salinas, along with staff and students from the 10 school districts.

“Vagnini was effusive in his praise for donors and the music programs in our community,” Bakken said.

Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Guitars Not Guns has remained resilient, utilizing platforms like Zoom to continue its mission. Since 2022, the organization has steadily reintegrated into classrooms across Monterey County.

The demand for their services has never been more pressing, and the need is greater than ever.

“At Bradley, we look forward to using the guitars as part of our enrichment program,” said Josh Van Norman, superintendent/principal of Bradley Union School District. “We thank all of those involved who made this donation possible.”

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Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.

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