Boca Ciega student finds friends and family through his love for music
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01/17/12 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday

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Devon Rismay played live in the WMNF production studio during an interview in September.


photo by Janelle Irwin

A student at Boca Ciega High School lives a pretty normal life now, but it wasn’t always that way. Devon Rismay spent 10 years bouncing around foster and group homes before finally finding a mom; and a talent.

Devon Rismay loves to sing the Blues. It’s not surprising that the teenager picked a genre indicative of longing and sadness. Rismay was taken from his parents as a young boy in the Virgin Islands. He looked forward to be reunited with them, but that never happened.

“My parents didn’t come, so they got their rights violated. Ever since then, I was put up for adoption."

"How old were you when that happened?"

"I was 12."

"Oh yes, it was quite depressing actually. But, I never really gave up. But, I kind of seeked out a family.”

Rismay was almost adopted three times, but each time the families changed their minds. He said the resulting roller coaster made it hard to fit in with other kids his age.

“I was getting bounced around from school to school. I didn’t quite have a normal life like other teenagers did. I didn’t have the privilege to spend overnights or even have friends or girlfriends, go to the movies or whatever like that. So, it was quite difficult actually.”

So, Rismay taught himself how to play the guitar. He said it was his way of escaping the stress he felt everyday. Unlike most teenagers, he didn’t have a family to talk to about his problems. But his passion and quickly developing musical talent introduced him to a friend. Dave Sheppard owns a music studio where he teaches kids. Wednesday’s Child, a weekly show that features a child who is searching for a home, contacted Sheppard about Rismay.

“Some people called me up that I knew and asked me, ‘can we film a segment for Wednesday’s Child?’ I’m like, ‘sure’ you know, ‘bring this guy down here’. He’s like 15-years-old, I think, his name is Devon and they said he liked to play the guitar a little bit. So, he came in and we started jamming and he could actually play. I mean, I teach hundreds of kids over the years, but this kid had only been playing for, I think, six months at the time. He could actually play. He had an amazing natural talent. Right away I just took to him. He’s a great kid. He’s got a great smile and a great personality and just a tremendous talent.”

And then Rismay finally found a home. His social worker sent him to an outing where he met the woman who would soon become his new mom, Natalie Jernigan.

“It was a nice experience. It feels good. I met her at an adoption social that I did not want to go to. I went with some other kids and I just brought my guitar just to entertain myself. So, I sat down for a little bit and then this one lady came up to me and she just randomly started talking to me. And I just, back then I was not the type to really talk to people, I wasn’t social. So, I was like, ‘I guess I just need to talk to her so I can get her out, you know, let her move away’. So, we talked back and forth and she was a social butterfly, I can tell you that. After we did some activities at the adoption social and I didn’t do any activities with her. But after I went back to my foster home, someone told me somebody wanted to mentor me. So, that’s kind of how we met each other.”

Rismay continued taking music lessons with Sheppard. And he got better and better. Rismay showed so much promise he was given the opportunity to record a CD. He looks at the opportunity as a chance to give the music he loves a new voice.

“I immediately went to Dave and told him we’ve got to play Blues. That’s all I love to play. I’m all about the Blues – Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmie Hendrix. So, we went in there and recorded about five songs and it was the best experience I ever had. What I plan to do one day is hopefully – I’m on a mission to hopefully bring back the Blues on radio because a lot of people these days are really losing their appreciation for the Blues and hip-hop and pop and country and stuff like that, that’s kind of the most popular music of the day. So, that’s my mission and what I plan to do. Recording was one of the best experiences I ever had.”

His teacher, Dave Sheppard, plays in shows with Rismay all over the Tampa Bay area. He expects his student will one day be better than he is. But for now, Sheppard just enjoys watching Rismay grow as a musician and as a young man.

“And you know what was really cool about it? I’m always telling him how good he is, which maybe I shouldn’t, but I do tell him how good he is. But when he heard himself played back on the CD, it was cool. His face just lit up and he was just so happy to hear himself played back and realize how good it sounded. It really made me feel really good about the time I spent with him too.”

Devon Rismay is also a good student. He’s involved in activities like ROTC and toastmasters. He’s also been a guest speaker numerous times including on National Adoption Day and at the Foster and Adoptive Parent Association Meeting of Pasco County. A website has information about where Rismay’s music can be heard.

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