“It’s nice to be part of something good. Something big.”
Donovan Hem and his brothers, Gavin and Logan, played soccer with DSAL and the Sheriff’s Fútbol Club during middle school, so they knew that DSAL provided free recreational activities to residents in Ashland, Cherryland, and the surrounding communities, but they didn’t know anything about the Rhythm Cadets until their Mom came across the program on DSAL’s website. She talked to the boys about it, and they decided to give it a try.
Donovan, a 17-year-old student at San Lorenzo High School, has been a drummer for eight years. He started out playing the drum set, and five years ago, he began playing the snare drum. He’s been a member of the Rhythm Cadets for two years.
“I enjoy the vibe and the environment—it’s not all serious,” said Donovan. “It’s about having fun and just helping each other out.”
It’s the “helping each other out” part of the equation that is the core of the Rhythm Cadets’ approach.
In competition, drumlines are evaluated on how well the individual musicians play together as one unit. They must move, play, and sound as one. Drumline programs, like the Rhythm Cadets, teach kids and young adults about teamwork, discipline, commitment, and leadership. The Rhythm Cadets’ mission is to impact youth in a positive way through a marching music experience that transcends barriers in unique ways.
“For me, honestly, I’m learning how to read music, but I’m also learning how to improve my leadership skills and how to take on challenges in dealing with the other kids,” said Donovan.
“We’re feeling a little bit bummed.”
Donovan maintains a positive attitude, but he admits that he and his brothers are feeling “a little bit bummed” about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on their ability to participate in the Rhythm Cadets’ live activities.
“A couple of months ago we were supposed to have a parade, but it got cancelled due to COVID,” said Donovan. “That had a huge impact on us. We were really excited to perform, and we were trying to buy new uniforms and good stuff like that, but it just wasn’t possible because of COVID.”
Despite the cancellation of the parade and live practice sessions, Donovan is grateful to be able to participate in the Rhythm Cadets’ through virtual practice sessions on Zoom.
“Right now, we’re all just trying to stick together and practice as much as we can,” he said. “It’s a little bit messy, and the timing is off sometimes, because Zoom meetings can lag, but we still try to work together, and we have trust within each other to keep going.”
“What DSAL offers for the community is absolutely awesome,” he said. “Not a lot of kids in different areas get this opportunity to do boxing, play soccer, or have access to programs like this. It’s just nice to be part of something good. Something big.”