The best way to understand what it’s like to participate as a Guitars Not Guns volunteer is to hear it straight from those who have done it. This post is part of an interview series where we try to share the experiences of our volunteers.
Meet Mark Ruf, who teaches classes and plays a leadership role in our curriculum development…
Why did you decide to volunteer for GNG?
Mark: I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer and help out people in need. I especially love working with kids. When I saw the opportunity I remembered back to when I first started playing guitar. I was around a similar age as the GNG kids. Playing guitar was the first thing I did in my life that I felt like I was really good at and the first thing that started to define me as an individual. It was something that made me happy and provided a creative outlet for me, and it still does to this day. I wanted to give other kids that opportunity, especially at a time in their lives where they may be searching for a sense of individuality and a medium to express some pretty complex emotions almost all adolescents feel. GNG felt like a great way to guide kids into something productive and creative.
What has the experience been like for you so far?
Mark: Overall the experience is great. I love being able to challenge a student and watch them overcome that challenge and feel a sense of accomplishment. It is very rewarding. Seeing their enthusiasm for learning the guitar reminds me a lot of myself when I was their age.
I never had experience teaching anything before so I definitely have had to acquire a skill for patience pretty quickly. Working with these kids has helped shape me into a better person and I hope the kids can say the same things about themselves.
Why do you believe helping to execute GNG’s mission is a worthwhile use of your free time?
Mark: Learning to play music has been one of the greatest endeavors I’ve taken throughout my life. It taught me the importance of practice, the importance of patience, as well as provided a medium for creativity and an emotional outlet. I wanted to give others that experience as well. Even if only one or two kids stick with it in the long run, I think it will be well worth it.
What’s one moment during your volunteer time that stands out to you?
Mark: Every once in a while I would try to explain something to a student and I would have a difficult time explaining it or teaching it. Somehow the kids would quickly pick it up as if they were a natural. It really showed me how smart and talented these kids were and how they could overcome difficulty with little explanation.
What do you hope for in the future for GNG and/or for you as a volunteer?
Mark: I really hope I can give at least one or two kids the same interest and enthusiasm for playing as I had when I was their age. If I can do that just for one or two, I think my job as a volunteer will be well worth it.
I would really like to teach kids not just the beginning but teach them along the way from being a beginner to being proficient, to being an expert. I would like to get them to a point where they are better than me at the guitar.
Lastly, I would love to continue the relationships with the kids past GNG into later in their lives. I would like to stay in contact and help them out wherever possible through their journey of life whether it be musically, personally, or professionally.
If this sounds like the kind of volunteer experience that you are looking for. Let us know you’re interested, so we can talk about getting you involved.