By Lisa Petrillo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A safe space for kids to express themselves through music is what Guitars over Guns is all about. The organization has been mentoring teens through music for more than a decade.

Teens like Jakaree Whyms who grew up in Allapattah.  He’s always liked music and he was introduced to the non-profit Guitars Over Guns when he was 11 years old.

He enjoys rapping and learned a lot from mentors in the program.

The organization teams professional musicians with middle and high schoolers in vulnerable communities.

Together, they write, jam, record music and perform while pushing the students out of their comfort zones.

“They had to give me shades I was so much in stage fright. Then I just got up in there,” Whyms recalls.

Chad Bernstein founded the organization. He’s a professional musician and one of Jakaree’s mentors and biggest fans.

“He’s always been my junior CEO, with big ideas, incredible sense of humor, drive, and curiosity, just brilliant,” Bernstein said.

Since 2008, about 5,000 students have participated in both Miami and Chicago. They hone leadership skills, focus on self-confidence and empathy.

By exploring their creativity and working with pros, the students improve their academic performance and make better decisions too.

“One thing that music does is help you understand what you can and what you can’t control. Because you can put stuff in lists and into bars and put those into music and you start to understand the bigger picture.  What you couldn’t convey first, {you learn} because you were misguided with anger and all these emotions that you couldn’t understand,” said Whyms.

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Guitars Over Guns is such a hit, it is one of ten awardees of the first-ever Elevate Prize.

The Elevate Prize Foundation launched a global search for organizations and programs worthy of an infusion of money and resources. Carolina Garcia Jayaram is the foundation’s Executive Director.

“We couldn’t have been happier with the results. We got almost 1300 applications from 119 countries,” she stated.

Bernstein says this may be the big break to help expand the reach of the program nationally and internationally.

“It’s really the network of individuals, it’s the coaching, the professional development, it’s two years of this concentrated ‘how we take the governor off the organization and focus on what you need to get you where you want to go?’. Unlocking that potential for people and aligning people with their purpose in life and their ability to pass it forward is an incredible opportunity.”

Lisa Petrillo

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