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Banging out their fears and frustrations
Drum circle at Avita helps troubled teens redirect their anger in a positive setting
Delwin Boniloa participates in a drum exercise art the Avita Community Players Clubhouse. - photo by Tom Reed

Ordinarily, “beating” and “striking” would be the last things you’d suggest to a frustrated teenager, but that’s what is happening inside the Avita Community Partners Clubhouse in Gainesville.

Where some may have been prone to lashing out at others in the past, the Avita clubhouse members are being asked to beat, strike and hit drums to help get their point across.

“All of the kids who come to us have had some kind of substance abuse issues. We do a variety of activities and things to help them try something new,” said Kevin L. Young, Avita program director.

The latest “something new” is a workshop offered by Drum Cafe, an Atlanta-based organization that offers a variety of music-making, team-building workshops.

Though some of his peers were slow to warm up to the activity, Delwin Boniloa was game from the beginning.

“At first, I was a little bit interested because I’d never done drums before,” said 16-year-old Delwin. “And then I really got into it once we started playing them.”

As participants sit in a circle with their chosen drums situated between their knees, the program facilitator gives them a beat to emulate.

Some of the kids tap their drum with their hands, while others use drumsticks.

“A lot of what (drum leader Melissa Massey) is doing is helping the kids to stretch themselves and to come together as a team,” Young said.

“Sometimes it sounds really noisy and it’s kind of like chaos. But as the kids learn to listen to each other and to not try to do their own thing, the better it sounds. At the end, they learn that if you learn to work together, it flows better.”

Avita is a nonprofit agency founded by the state Legislature in the early 1990s to help provide services to individuals dealing with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases. Participants are referred to the clubhouse program by parents, juvenile court officials and school system employees.

The clubhouse has been open on the square in downtown Gainesville for about four years.

The main goal at the clubhouse is to try and show the teens how to enjoy life without relying on drugs or other substances. That includes finding new ways of having fun and relieving stress, which are also lessons the teens can take away from the drum circle.

Through Avita, Delwin says he’s learned how to find drug-free alternatives for relieving his stress.

“I go outside, play soccer, listen to music and stay away from people who use drugs,” Delwin said.

“I also go to church and hang out at Avita. Now I can add drumming to the list.”

Beating on the drum and focusing on keeping up with the beat helps redirect frustrations, Delwin said.

“Many of our kids have a lot of things going on at home and in their lives,” Young said.

“They find it difficult to deal with those things, so they automatically go to drugs. The (drum circle) teaches them how to use deep breathing and mindfulness to center their thoughts and to block out whatever else is going on.”

Although the final of three installments of the Drum Cafe workshop is coming up next week, this may not be the last time that a drumming circle keeps the beat at the clubhouse.

“There are so many positive things that can be taken away from this program. I’m very pleased to see how they’ve responded,” Young said.

“A lot of people have insecurities about doing new things, especially when it comes to music. It was expected that we’d see a few slow movements toward it, but I’ve seen some kids who put it down early during the first session really go for it now."

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