Eddie Esparza remembers growing up in Camas in the early 1970s.
He was 5 years old, and his brother was 7 when they and their mother moved from Los Angeles to the Camas Hotel. They eventually moved into a house near Lacamas Lake.
Although that time in Esparza’s life involved poverty, he still has fond memories of the Camas area.
“I enjoyed the freedom of youth,” he said. “We would walk to the lake and go fishing, walk down the road to Crown Park and play up there. I remember going on many walks there and enjoying being a kid.
“Three months ago, I took my wife and kids there,” Esparza added. “The house is not there any longer.”
His recent trip involved a sentimental stop at Top Burger.
Esparza’s childhood involved moves to Vancouver, Portland, Midland, Texas, Wyoming and Woodland. Being the son of a single mother and an alcoholic father has enabled him to communicate with today’s youth about how he dealt with challenges. As the director of the “One of a Kind Drumline,” Esparza gets to do just that.
He talks to students about leadership, family, overcoming past mistakes, problem solving and college access.
“It’s basically a life prep program, using the drum as a tool,” Esparza said. “This is a great outlet for expression — an opportunity to escape even temporarily and put your joy, your anger, your sadness into the drums. You can play and concentrate. Find a peaceful place to relax.”
Esparza, 41, started the drum line, with seven students and support from volunteer parent coordinator Tammy Cline seven years ago. The group now features 18 students and Cline. The drumline has performed during a Portland Trail Blazers halftime show, the Vancouver Sausage Festival and the 2009 Camtown Youth Festival.
Esparza estimates the group has performed for more than 800,000 people.
“They enjoy performing live, because it feels good to get the recognition of the community,” he said. “When it goes well, it goes really really well.”
Preparing the students for college has involved taking them to various campuses including George Fox University, in Newberg, Ore., and Clark College, in Vancouver. The drum line’s service projects have included painting houses and maintaining green spaces.
Esparza said although the drum line currently consists of students from the Vancouver School District, he would like to include youth regardless of socioeconomic background.
“I would like to do this full-time and expand to other schools,” he said. “The Vancouver School District has been very generous in supporting us.”
The One of a Kind Drumline has applied to become a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
In addition to financial contributions, donations of drums and percussion equipment are welcome.
“We need a truck desperately,” Esparza said. “It costs a lot to rent.”
The drum line is also hoping to find a space to house the group’s equipment.
For more information, contact Esparza at 313-4188 or Ed.Esparza@vansd.org or visit www.oneofakinddrumline.com.