Volunteer teacher Brian Cerney works with students practicing chords. “It’s pretty cool when you see a kid get it,” chapter president Ryan Lunka said. Credit: Kaylee Harter | Lantern Reporter

Central Ohio Guitars Not Guns volunteer Brian Cerney asked his students how their days were going. Holding their blue acoustic guitars in one hand during an early lesson, many of the students replied with thumbs pointed sideways.  

“We’re going to turn those sideways thumbs up,” Cerney said.

This is the beginning of the fifth Central Ohio Guitars Not Guns class, a program in which volunteers like Cerney teach underprivileged kids the basics of playing guitar over the course of 10 weeks.  

At the end of the course, students are eligible for a second-level course and get to keep their guitars —  a cost which the local chapter is responsible for covering itself.  

Columbus musicians will come together to raise money for the guitar classes Friday at the chapter’s first GNG Benefit Concert, less than two weeks after a school shooting in Florida left 17 people dead.

“The timeliness is insane,” said Billy Peake, vocalist of Bicentennial Bear, one of five local bands that will be performing.  “It’s like we’re a really, really tiny part of the movement.”

The concert also will  feature Shelby Love Brothers and chapter president Ryan Lunka’s band, Local Tourists.

Lunka said he hopes for the benefit show to raise at least $1,000 –– enough to pay for guitars for the next 10-week session.  

“Any of us who are involved in this who are musicians are just trying to share the positive impact [music] had on us,” Lunka said.

Guitars Not Guns, which is a national nonprofit, isn’t necessarily an anti-guns organization, Lunka said. Its focus is more on preventing violence.

“What we’re trying to do is give kids something positive in those really critical ages, especially if they’re in at-risk environments or at-risk neighborhoods,” Lunka said.  “Part of that is keeping kids away from violence or gangs or anything like that, but part of it is giving them a hobby so they build self-confidence.”

Lunka decided to start a GNG chapter in Columbus after hearing about the organization from Cerney, who had been involved in a chapter in California.

Now in its sixth week of classes, Lunka credits the program’s success thus far to the collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club.

“There’s a lot of synergy there,” Lunka said.  “They pull in the kind of kids we’re trying to target with this program.  They have the facilities, they have the staff to supervise.  If we had to set all that stuff up, that would’ve been really difficult.”

Lunka said he hopes to expand the program to other Boys and Girls Clubs in the area as the program draws more volunteers and raises more money.

Both Peake and members of Shelby Love Brothers said that despite their busy schedules, they are interested in working more closely with the organization in the future.

In addition to all ticket sales, Big Room Bar will donate 10 percent of all bar sales to the organization, and Pierogi Mountain will serve food and also donate 10 percent of its sales.

The Guitars Not Guns Benefit show will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Big Room Bar, 1036 S. Front St. Admission is $10 at the door and is open to all ages.

A previous version of this article listed the wrong address for Big Room Bar. This issue has now been corrected.