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    Harmonikids Hohner-Sponsored Session For Troubled Youth In Detention

    06 September, 2016

    On July 26, 2016 I returned to provide a Hohner sponsored Harmonikids session to the Ferris detention facility in Wilmington Delaware; a full-security juvenile facility for boys whose mission is to “provide educational and therapeutic services to adjudicated youth in a safe, staff-secure and gender sensitive environment preparing them for successful re-entry into the community.” Over the years Harmonikids' ongoing programs to assist the youth at Ferris have become among my personal favorites because the participants (many of whom have been neglected, abandoned, and/or abused in their young lives) receive much-needed self esteem and confidence from the experience. In addition, I spent much of my adolescent years just a few miles from the detention facility and under different circumstances I could have easily ended up there myself.

    The session was a rousing success. All were entertained, taught Blues history, received shiny new Hohner harmonicas and learned to accurately play. They sat riveted for 90 minutes, still wanting more when I left. My favorite part was the improvised "Blues Rap" session that ensued - with a couple of the boys taking turns expressing themselves by rapping to the iconic harmonica riff from Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" (one of the four songs I taught them). The visible positive transformation of the youth's demeanor and spirit as they had fun applying themselves to the lesson was inspirational to witness.

    Harmonikids provides a healthy and positive form of creative expression and emotional release for detained youth in this crucial time in their lives. Simply stated, the lessons often become an inspiration for these adolescents to grow, change, forgive the world – and themselves.  The harmonica often becomes a strong but gentle tool to help kids get back on track. Long ago I learned to never underestimate the power of using music and the harmonica as a remarkable instrument to reach out and make a difference in young lives. A summary of the benefits Harmonikids provided to the troubled teens in the session is described in the attached note received from Treatment Specialist Lester Whidbee.

    ~ Gary Allegretto, Founding Director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org

    On July 26, 2016, at 9:00am, the youth of the Residential Cottages were graced with the presence of harmonica artist and vocalist Gary Allegretto.  Blues Revue Magazine indicates, “Gary Allegretto is one of the finest harp players you’ll hear”.  I can truthfully say, Mr. Allegretto lived up to his name.  He stopped by to give the youth a great message about never giving up and doing one’s best to fulfill your dreams. He told the youth about the love, passion, and enjoyment that music has brought to his life. Gary has travel the world with his heart in his hand.  His harmonica is his heart.  Gary once lived in Delaware.  He now resides in Los Angeles, California.

    He started his workshop off by entertaining and then giving the youth and staff their own Hohner harmonica on which he showed the youth and staff how to play several songs (including a twelve bar Blues).” The favorite song of the youth and staff was Bo Diddley's “I’m A Man” (which some of the students took turns rapping to after they learned to play it). The youth and staff were engaged and excited during the entire program. Gary allowed several youth to play a solo.  Several of the staff members played along with their own harmonica’s.  It was very refreshing to see the youth and staff enjoying themselves together.  Music is chicken soup for the soul.

    We thanked Gary for stopping by the Residential Cottages.   It would be an enlightenment if  he would come back to the Residential Cottages again in the future.  This was such a blessing.

    ~ Lester Whidbee, Treatment Specialist Supervisor, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, DSCYF