Kris Hancock has a few axes to grind. Then he’ll get them signed by rock stars and auction them off for charity.
The Ecole Selkirk Junior High teacher and Red River College grad (Industrial Arts/Technology Teacher Education, 2007) is the creator of the B.O.S.S. Guitar Works program, an afterschool course where Grade 7 and 8 students design and build custom electric guitars. (The program’s title stands for Building On Student Success.)
The guitars are then painted and sent to celebrities – among them Gene Simmons, Roger Waters, William Shatner and Jann Arden – for signatures before being auctioned off to support the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and other Manitoba charities.
When Hancock and other teachers planned the first auction in 2010, the goal was to raise $1,000. For this year’s event on May 30, the target is a hundred times that.
“It’s turned into something that’s truly amazing,” Hancock says. “It started as a small idea and the next thing you know, we’ve had celebrities sign over 100 guitars.”
Hancock says he had the first inklings of the fundraising plan while he was still studying to be an industrial arts teacher at Red River College. As his instructors and classmates discussed projects that would capture the attention of future preteen students, his own enthusiasm for playing electric guitar came to mind.
“You have to find something that engages, something that’s fresh and new. If a project is boring or not interesting, they’ll turn off. Your class won’t be fun for them and it won’t be fun for you.”
While Hancock oversees the instruments’ construction, several other teachers lead the students through the fretwork and chord practice necessary to play the souvenir guitars they’ll walk away with at the end of the program. It’s a solid, playable reminder of an experience that goes beyond building guitars and snagging celebrity endorsements, as cool as those may be.
“Through this program, we’ve worked with over 30 different charities,” Hancock says. “We’ve taken students on tours of their operations, met some different celebrities, given students many opportunities to talk to media. These are skills they wouldn’t normally pick up in school.”
“One of our students had the opportunity to speak at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. Out of that, upper administration at PCL Construction asked to take that student on a tour and discussed the possibility of future employment with them.”
The confidence students get from taking ownership of a fundraising event that brings them in touch with internationally renowned artists is the ultimate payoff in Hancock’s mind. It’s a gift that’s drawing back past program participants to help with this year’s event, even those who are preparing to finally graduate high school.
This is the first year B.O.S.S. students will be finishing Grade 12 and Hancock will have a chance to see if the program draws a full circle: if the passion for woodworking he had as a young man translates into students finding their own passions and impacting the world with them.
And maybe striking a few power chords, too.
Shown above: Kris Hancock (centre) supervises Ecole Selkirk Junior High students Alyssa Fey (left) and Cheyanne Wise, as they sand their guitar bodies. (Photo courtesy the Winnipeg Free Press.)
Profile by Matt TenBruggencate (Creative Communications, 2013)