- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) - Eight local youth have received guitars - and lessons - from the Newnan Police Department through the Guitars Not Guns program.

Guitars Not Guns was started in California in 2000 by retired musician Ray Nelson and his wife, Lulie, and works with youth to help them appreciate the power of music. There are currently 15 chapters in 12 states. The Nelsons now live in Peachtree City.

The Newnan Police Department chapter graduated its first class recently, after eight weeks of lessons and group meetings. At the end of the graduation, the nine students were told they get to keep their guitars.

The students were taught by Sgt. Denver Atwood and officer Anthony Grant. Officer Ed Lee said that they had looked for a guitar instructor to volunteer but couldn’t find one. So Atwood and Grant, who both play guitar themselves, volunteered to teach.

Newnan Police Chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows told the students and their parents that, at the end of the second eight-week class, the police department is going to arrange to have them perform at the Wadsworth Auditorium.

“Music gives people an outlet for their feelings a lot of times,” Meadows said. “We hope y’all will find this is a good thing for you to express your feelings.”

“We are so excited about this program,” said Newnan City Manager Cleatus Phillips. “I pledge to offer full support of the city. If we can see this program grow, we’ll offer the resources.”

“These are our future leaders,” said Lulie Nelson.

Allie Tenney has really enjoyed her time with Guitars Not Guns and plans to stay with the program. “They really respect you. They’re really nice. They really help you learn,” she said.

The officers also talk to the students about expressing themselves, she said. “They make you feel like you’re part of the group. I was shy when I first came here. I found out they’re not going to judge me. I feel okay and not shy.”

“They were so very nice,” said her mom, Lyndi Boswell.

Sisters Tomaiya, Sumaiya and Tyiena Stafford have really enjoyed the program and want to keep playing guitar.

So has their dad, Timothy. “Kids need more of this,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

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