Chad Bernstein was in the third grade when he discovered the power of music. He attended a performance by the school’s fifth-grade wind ensemble and was physically moved.
“All the hairs on my body stood up,” Bernstein, now 32, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “[The music] was filling me up on the inside. I was moved to the point I was having a physical reaction to it.”
In 2008, while living in Miami, Bernstein turned his passion for music into an arts education and mentoring program called Guitars Over Guns. He believed young people could use music to make their lives better, and he focused on at-risk youth, helping redirect them from possible violence.
“Nobody is happy about the amount of people that are being killed by guns,” Bernstein says. “It’s really difficult in times like this to not feel strongly about the work we’re doing.”
The program has helped more than 1,000 children since it started at North Miami Middle School, including high school senior Pierre Junior.
For more on Chad Bernstein’s work, the students he’s mentoring and Guitars Over Guns, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Like Bernstein, Junior had his own life-changing brush with music: When Junior was in middle school, with his mother frustrated by his bad behavior, one of his teachers noticed he liked music class and encouraged him to join Guitars Over Guns.
“I got my first guitar and I realized the program was meant for me,” Junior, now 17, tells PEOPLE.
“Every week I was there – front row and center – learning,” he says.
Junior’s grades, and his behavior, improved. Since then, he has encouraged friends to join and mentored others.
He credits Bernstein, an “amazing mentor,” for showing him that there is an entire world to explore and it comes through music.
“He is somebody we all look up to,” Junior says. “The hope is to make the community better with Guitars Over Guns.”