Vol. 8, Issue 4, February 26-March 11, 2010

By Jamal Al-Sarraf

The Capistrano Dispatch

Residents’ program at Boys and Girls Club teaches guitar

When Erika Garcia, 11, gets so frustrated with her homework she just can’t take it anymore, she whips out her guitar and starts strumming until it hurts. Garcia’s pent up stress is lost in the music, and she does better in school since she’s been playing the guitar. Who’s she to thank? Musical Mentors, a charity that helps underprivileged kids learn to play the guitar.

Before his interest in music Capistrano resident Duff Rowden was a trouble maker in school. He needed a new path in life and decided that music would fill the void. “Before I started to play music I was getting into trouble in my teen years,” he said. “I started to play music and hang out with a different crowd and it got me out of trouble.”

Rowden ended up marrying his wife, Bonita, in 1977 and graduating from Northwest University in 1978 and became a professional musician. He has a broad range of musical experience ranging from production, composition, to being a musical pastor and to tutoring.

After giving private lessons for years Rowan decide to launch Musical Mentors at the Boys and Girls club in San Juan Capistrano in 2007. While the program takes place at the Boys and Girls Club, Musical Mentors is not funded by organization and survive on donations alone. Lessons are also free for every child who attends. “Kids need more than lessons—they need mentors. After all, a wise person said ‘Greatness is more caught than taught.’ Our mentors are outstanding young people from the community who understand the value of each child’s life and make the kids one of their top priorities,” Musical Mentors’s literature reads.

“About 60 to 70 percent of these kids are from underprivileged families,” Rowden said. “I want to teach them to think that their not trouble makers, I want them to think that they’re more than that, I want them to think of themselves as guitar players.”

However, with over 30 students in all three classes it can get a little overwhelming for Rowden and the cacophony from the students. To alleviate the problem he has volunteer students from the community come in and help with the lessons.

A student of Saddleback Christian Academy and avid guitar player, Kelsey Hogg, 15, has been with the program for two years and enjoys helping the children and finds it rewarding. “A lot of the children come from a broken home,” she said. “I like watching them grow as a person and learn to play the guitar because it helps them become better people and helps them with their grades.”

With a passion for theater, Sharon Massey, 18 of Mission Viejo high school has been with the program for six months and loves teaching the children. “I could have been at home on Facebook or doing my homework but instead I’m here helping these kids,” she said.

One of Rowden’s youngest mentors in the program, Jake Boswell, 13, a student of Rowden’s for two years, has been a part of the program for six months. “I like to make a big influence and show them [the kids] that God’s light shines through me,” he said. “I love it and I look forward to it every week.”

A favorite of the students is Mishavonna Henson, who was featured in the top 50 of American Idol during the shows last season. Henson has signed many of the children’s guitars and they were excited to see her in the show. “We had the kids vote for her while she was on TV,” Rowden said. “They were stoked to see one of their mentors on TV and that proved to them that with a little hard work, they could be there too.”

Rowden teaches three levels of classes, beginning, intermediate and advanced. During each of the lessons he and the mentors personally go around to each student and give them one on one instruction, teaching the children how to how the guitar correctly, where to strum and making sure that their focused. Their also given mantras and words of encouragement through each lesson. “Strum till your fingers hurt!” Rowden tells his class. “I can do it because I just did it!”

Students are also awarded for completing homework and given points for attendance. They can earn up to 50 points a week on the way to the 800 to earn the coveted guitar. “We believe that the students should ‘learn to earn’ in order to earn their guitars,” Bonita Rowden said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment and self worth.”

As for the future? Rowden wants the program to expand beyond San Juan Capistrano. “We’ve been asked to expand up to Anaheim and other areas of Orange County,” he said. “It’s a really exciting prospect.”

Musical Mentors meets every Thursday between 4 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. at the Boys and Girls clubs of Capistrano Valley, 1 Via Positiva. Classes are held every 45 minutes. Call 949.481.7463 or 949.283.1357 or visit www.musicalmentors.org for more information.

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