Harmonikids Session with Troubled Teens in Salt Lake City, UT
29 February, 2016
On February 27,2016 I brought my Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session to the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center (SLVDC), In Salt Lake City Utah. SLVDC is 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 Justin Olson at the Administration Office who led me to a dozen young men in one of the facility's full-security "pods". 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 Justin Olson show how positive that impact can be in not only providing lessons in music - but also in life.
~ Gary Allegretto, founding director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org
Gary Allegretto came and taught his Harmonica Program here at Salt Lake Valley Detention Center. The youth were engaged and attentive enjoying learning - not just how to play the harmonica - but some life lessons that Gary was speaking about. A great example of this would be when the youth asked him some questions such as "Are you famous?" and "Are you rich?" Gary replied by saying: "Succeeding and finding happiness in life isn't about being rich or famous. Don't fall into that trap. Money and fame are fleeting and generally don't last. They can easily be taken away from you. It's all about finding your purpose and passion in life and doing what you love and enjoy. Everything else will fall in place." He went on to tell the youth that when he first started playing the harmonica it wasn't because he wanted to become famous or rich at all. It was because it made him happy, bringing him joy and a positive direction. He gave a great example tying harmonica playing into life itself when Gary said; "When you make a mistake on a harmonica what do you do? Give up? No! Of course you don't give up! You correct your mistake and move on. And that's true with everything else in your life. When we make mistakes, we correct them and move on." This simple but important lesson really hit home with our teens.
Everyone had wonderful time as they learned to play actual songs. All of their reactions and comments were very positive. Several of my favorites include:
"He seems pretty cool. I finally learned to play an instrument… my first instrument."
"It has inspired me."
"I liked it… he should start doing it more often here."
"I am really thankful for him coming and teaching us and giving us these musical machines."
"It was one of the best things that has happened to me."
~ Justin Olson, JJS Counselor I, Division of Juvenile Justice Services, Salt Lake Valley Detention Center, Salt Lake City, UT