Harmonikids Session with Troubled Teens in Elko, Nevada
28 January, 2016
On January 28, 2016, while performing at the Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Gathering I brought my Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session to the Nevada Youth Training Center (NYTC) in Elko, NV. NYTC is a a full-security facility designed to rehabilitate troubled youth detained by court order. Such facilities have become among my favorite to provide Harmonikids humanitarian 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 in with supervisor David Wilkins at the Administration Office who led me and 11 young men in single file to the gymnasium. Their nervous energy, tension, and apprehension were palpable as they were instructed to sit at attention for the session - and within minutes, lessons and 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, communicate, 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 an extraordinary instrument to reach out and make a difference in young lives. The following letter and commentary from the youth received from supervisor David Wilkins show how positive that impact can be.
Gary Allegretto, founding director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org
"Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to come to Nevada Youth Training Center to entertain and provide (Hohner-donated) harmonicas to teach some of our youth. Your workshop was very well received by all of us that attended. Your history of the Harmonica and how it played an important role in America’s history was very interesting to me and the 11 youth. They were most impressed by how well you played - you made it seem so easy. Then you gave them the harmonicas and the way you taught them to play so easily was very impressive. With your method and gentle encouragement you had them playing the songs immediately which really boosted their self confidence and sell esteem. I would like to share some comments that the boy’s had.
All of the boys said they enjoyed the performance and the opportunity to learn something new. Of note, "Zack" said that he would like to try and incorporate some of the harmonica sound in his music when he gets released. He does perform in Vegas with a rap band and has a couple of engagements set for later next month. "Michael" said you did a fantastic job at playing and teaching them some of the things that they can do with a harmonica. He is looking forward to learning how to play it much better when he get released. "Ivan" was the one that was majorly impressed with the bluesy sounds you made. He wants to learn this because he loves the Blues - and so that he can "impress the ladies" when he is released. In fact, he and most of the others all agreed with that if they could just master the 4 songs you showed them that it would impress the ladies. After all they are teenage boys and the ladies are on their minds all the time. But moreover, all of them were very impressed with what they learned - even though they were a little apprehensive about "Cowboy Poetry' - and "Country" anything. Their idea of "Country" is going to a Walmart in another part of town. So they were very surprised at how much fun they had!
I would like thank you personally. I found the session both very enjoyable and beneficial. These boys and I learned and will continue to have fun playing the harmonica thanks to you. It made a positive difference in their lives."
David Wilkins, Supervisor, Nevada Youth Training Center, http://dcfs.nv.gov/Programs/JJS/Nevada-Youth-Training-Center/