(Photo courtesy of SFAC)

The Sitka Fine Arts Camp’s high school camp wraps up at the end of this week, and campers won’t just be taking memories home with them. Each one will be bringing home a brand new guitar. It’s possible through a new partnership with Free Guitars for Kids.

“We believe that every kid should have the opportunity to experience the joy and tangible benefits of owning your musical instrument,” says Ben Dudley, executive director of the nonprofit.

Dudley says before “Free Guitars” one of the organization’s founders, Terry Esau, was giving away bicycles.

“He had some bikes in his garage that were his kids that had grown up, and he’s like, ‘You know, I should fix these bikes and give them away.’ And then he got his bike club to do it. And next thing you know, he’s giving away 500 bikes in Minneapolis,” Dudley says. “And then they started it as a nonprofit, and now they’re in 22 cities across the country, they’ve given away over 100,000 bikes.” 

One day, Esau’s friend Damon Danielson heard a news story about the decline of music education. He reached out and said they should do the same thing for kids with guitars.  

Dudley has been leading the organization since last summer. In that time they’ve given away over 700 guitars all over the country, from Nashville to Portland, and now, Sitka.

“I was in the airport flying to Nashville, wearing my “Free Guitars for Kids” sweatshirt. And this lady saw and started a conversation with me,” Dudley says. “She [said] ‘You know, my husband [has] been a pilot for Alaska Airlines for a long time. He’s really connected, maybe we can get Alaska Airlines to help you.”

They connected Dudley with a representative at Alaska Airlines, where he learned of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and an opportunity to reach kids from across the state. Then, earlier this summer, they shipped over 150 guitars to Sitka– for elementary campers, acoustic guitars with softer nylon strings. Middle and high school campers scored electric guitars. 

Dudley says his nonprofit likes to partner with organizations like the fine arts camp that provide the training so that students are mentored with their new guitars. 

“So these kids, they come to camp, but a lot of them go home, and they don’t have a guitar to continue their journey, their musical journey. So they get this really cool experience, but then when they go home, unless they’re able to afford it, or they seek out the instrument, it kind of stops there,” Dudley says. “And now they’re going to be able to continue their music journeys at home because of this gift that we’re able to support this year.”

Dudley is visiting Sitka this weekend and will give a presentation on the program at the concert showcasing final camp performances on Saturday night. He says he’s looking forward to hearing students jam out on their new guitars.