Harmonikids Session for Youth at a Colorado Correctional Facility
02 October, 2015
On October 2, 2015 I brought my Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session to 20 participants at the DeNier Youth Services Center; a correctional facility in Durango, Colorado. It was my fifth visit to this full-lockdown facility providing a nurturing environment designed to rehabilitate troubled youth detained by court order. It has become among my favorite facilities to provide Harmonikids services. Sadly, most of these teens are there ultimately as a result of abandonment, neglect, abuse, or violent childhood environments.
Their confidence and self-esteem are likely shaken if not shattered – leaving them feeling broken, hopeless, and trapped. I checked my driver’s license at the front desk for a background check, and was led through more locking doors to the “pod” where the youth assembled in their school program. The nervous energy, tension and apprehension in the room was palpable as they were ordered to sit at attention - and within minutes, lessons from music made on harmonicas changed all of that.
Harmonikids provides youth such as these a healthy and positive form of creative expression and emotional release 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 magical instrument to reach out and make a difference in young lives. The following letters received from several of the DeNier Center detainees and their teacher show how positive that impact can be – in their own words.
Gary Allegretto, founding director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org
"Thanks so much for coming to our facility teach the students how to play harmonica. You were really able to hold their attention during your presentation. The sense of accomplishment the students showed after learning the songs was amazing."
~ Nancy Shefte, Teacher, DeNier Center
"I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to come and teach us how to play the harmonica. I now see that a harmonica is a very broad ranged musical instrument and it can create high-energy entertaining songs. I personally liked how you brought humor to your teaching and all of the energy. You had me cracking up when you blew a note out of your nose!
You made the experience very fun and I thank you. Congratulations on the Disney movie! I will look forward to hearing your part when I get out of jail and see it. Anyway Mr Allegretto, to sum it all up, thank you for sharing this experience with us - I really appreciate it a lot."
~ I. G., DeNier youth resident
"I just want to start by saying how much of a pleasure it was having you show us how to play the harmonica … I never knew how to play one, but now I do thanks to you. I want you to know I greatly appreciate you teaching us now to play and taking time out of your day to do it. Thank you very much Harmonicowboy!"
~ T.B., DeNier youth resident
"Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to learn the harmonica. It was very pleasant for myself and others to hear unique and phenomenal music. I think that giving and teaching what you do is very admirable. I personally have enjoyed what you brought to us and hope to see more in the future."
~ J. F., DeNier youth resident
"I just wanted to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn and experience how fun a harmonica really is. I think it's great what you do. Keep up the good work nd can't wait til your next visit."
~ L. S., DeNier youth resident