BBBS hosts djembe drumming sessions for stress relief

Published 8:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Nonprofit prioritizes mental health, training


POLK COUNTY—To prioritize mental health, Big Brother Big Sister of Western North Carolina has recently trained its staff in Youth Mental Health First Aid. 

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The ability to handle a mental health situation until more assistance can be reached is crucial, and as mentors, BBBS “Bigs” and staff want to be able to support kids in any situation.

Polk Program Coordinator Jessica Toney has gone even further by hosting “Stress Less” activities for Bigs, Littles, their families and council members. 

On June 17, a dozen people participated in the nonprofit’s first djembe drumming session at Stearns Park. Djembe drumming originated in West Africa, with drums made of wood, cord and goat skin. Research has shown that djembe drumming has mental health benefits, with just 15 minutes of drumming having a positive effect on the brain that lasts three hours. Stimulating the brain’s right and left sides causes a “centering” effect.

Djembe instructor Chris Blalock and two friends, Chad Wasden and Emily Johnson, taught the group the three sounds of this type of drumming – bass, tone and slap – along with different rhythm sequences. The participants quickly picked up the technique and had a great time.

“Mental health is such a personal thing that no intervention is universal except music,” said Toney. “Many who have experienced trauma may not be ready to talk about things but can still process and heal through the music and therapeutic repetition of djembe drumming. It is a universal safe release of feelings.”

Blalock has worked for several years teaching drumming to schools as a form of therapy for students. He describes it as “a positive party in your brain that heals the brain from damage trauma has caused.”

After the recent session, Blalock asked each participant how they felt. Hanna, a BBBS Advisory Council member and Big Sister said, “This drumming has helped my brain slow down and focus.” Little Brother Landon said, “I am just happy we all got to get together and drum for an hour.”

Toney has planned another session in August to help all the program’s local Littles get mentally prepared for the coming school year. If you are struggling with mental health issues, please reach out to someone for help. Remember, you are not alone.