Harmonikids HOHNER-sponsored session #7

06.01.2014

Denier Youth Correctional Center

On October 4, 2013 I brought my HOHNER-sponsored Harmonikids session to the DeNier Youth Services Center; a correctional facility in Durango Colorado. It was my third visit to this full-lockdown strict disciplinary environment designed to rehabilitate kids who had lost their way and were being held there by court order. Sadly, though they had taken a wrong turn, most of these kids 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 with no way out. I checked my driver’s license at the front desk for a background check, and made my way through more locking doors to the “pod” where the youth assembled. 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 the director and several of the Denier Center detainees remind me how truly profound that effect can be – in their own words. Their eloquence and honesty are heartwarming.

Gary Allegretto, founding director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org

Letter from DeNier Director Lisa Will

Hi Gary,

I just wanted to send you a quick note to tell you how much we appreciate your harmonica workshops here at the DeNier Youth Services Center.  I have been fortunate to be here for three of those workshops, and each time I see amazing things happen with our students during the brief time they are with you.

Students who normally have very low self esteem, and don't believe they can do anything, participate in your workshops and are playing songs on the harmonica in less than an hour.  The smiles on their faces after they play their first songs are priceless.

I don't have any scientific proof, but I see an attitude shift in some students following your workshop.  The students that come to DeNier are bright wonderful youth who have not had enough positive adult role models in their lives. Having you here to show them they can be successful with something they've never tried before, really makes a difference in their lives.

Sincerely,
Lisa Will

Lisa Will
Director, Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center
Durango School District 9R
lwilk@durango.k12.co.us
970-375-2781

Letters from several of the youth detainees

Dear Mr. Allegretto,
Thank you for bringing harmonicas to Denier.  Since you have left the daylight of music has overpowered the dullness of day to day life. The fact that you stopped by here shows how selfless you are.  Please keep on helping; on helping the world become one through music. Thanks for everything you have done.  
Sincerely,
SJ Brunso


Dear Gary Allegretto
Howdy Gary, I really appreciate you coming to see us here at Denier.  Every night I try to get better at playing the harmonica.  When I was younger I always wanted to get a harmonica.  I really appreciate you giving me a harmonica.  I live on a ranch.  I own my own cattle and horse.  I enjoyed your entertainment and skills that you taught us.  I hope you continue with your music business and continue in your music career.  I appreciate you coming  and you help me realize that I can become a musician if I put my mind to it.  As well as knowing that I have to practice to become a good musician or singer.  Thanks again for the harmonica and the knowledge about you and music.  
Tyler Beebe


Dear Gary,
Thank you for coming and showing us how to play the harmonica.  I've been playing it a lot and Ive already learned how to play songs like "When the Saints Go Marching In".  It was great to be able to learn how to play the harmonica.  You are really good at playing and I will be looking for your music in movies. I hope other kids everywhere around the world appreciate what you are doing 'cause it is truly amazing.  I hope you have fun traveling the world a little more.  
Sincerely,
Austin Phillips


Dear Gary Allegretto,
Your presentation was awesome.  We don't get too much cool things like that in here.  I really appreciated you teaching us how to play the harmonica.  I have always wanted to learn.  Now that I know how to play the basics, I can show off that I can play in front of my friends.  Since you left Ive been practicing a lot.  I learned how to play "When the Saints Go Marching in" and most of the other songs that were in the book.  I think you are really great at what you do.  Thank you for coming and we all really appreciated what you did.  
Sincerely,
Chris Rivas

Dear Gary
I would like to start off with a thank you for spending your time with us.  I love music and I also want to be a music artist.  Yours was great and I have been trying to play my harmonica in my room.  Thank you for that.  I like it and I am trying to play without my fingers.  I bet you that I could play the harmonica out of my ears LOL just kidding.  Thank you for your time.  
David Sanchez

Dear Gary
I appreciate that you took the time to come here to Denier to teach us about harmonicas, I really enjoyed that.  My favorite song is the You are my sunshine song.  I like that one because it's just a happy song and I need as much happiness as I can get so thank you.  I've been practicing with the harmonica since we first got it. I haven't learned to do it without my fingers yet but I'm getting there.  I think it's great what you do and how you help people from all around the world.  I hope to be able to do something similar to that when I get my life straight, except I want to serve in the military a and army ranger.  I think that would be awesome to be able to do something that you get noticed for, something that actually turns heads.  So once again I thank you for coming and I wish you the best.  
Sincerely,
Jacob Bridges