Healdsburg nonprofit aims to encourage kids' creativity

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LAND OF JENDALA

The after-school program has openings for more students at 444 Heartizens St. Cost: The program per student is $250 per semester or $100 per month. Registration is limited to 12 students.

Information: To find out more or to register for the workshop, email info@jendala.com.

NOV. 9: Jendala’s 11th Annual OPEN STUDIO

This event will benefit Heartizens, from 2-8 p.m. Nov. 9. From 2-5 p.m. there will be art activities for kids. After 5 p.m., there will be wine and beer, a silent auction, raffle and live music. The event will take place rain or shine. 444 Moore Lane.

Information: heartizens.org

A plain warehouse building on the other side of the railroad tracks from the Healdsburg Plaza doesn’t look like the sort of place you would find scurrying youngsters engaged in the arts — from painting and drawing to clay and ceramics to karaoke and music. But that is exactly what happens on Wednesday afternoons, when the building transforms into a cacophonous place, all movement, music and noise — along with joy, kindness and creativity.

The kids know Wednesday afternoon as “444 Time.” The sessions, facilitated by artist Jennifer Utsch and assistant Marisol Valentín, begin about 3 p.m., when a bus drops students at a corner where Utsch meets them, until 5:30 p.m., when their parents pick them up.

The address the kids associate with the warehouse, 444 Heartizens St., is fictional, and inspired by both the warehouse’s actual address and childhood traditions found in PBS shows such as “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Utsch’s programs exemplify the values she wants to build in the hearts and minds of the young students in her charge.

Currently the group includes students in first through sixth grades, though Utsch hopes to add both younger children, as time and energy permit, as well as older students. In fact, the students attending say they plan to return as leaders to younger children as they grow older.

This all fits under the umbrella of Utsch’s new nonprofit, Heartizens, an organization taking on project- based community-building, for the time being focused on youngsters. Utsch, though, envisions a time when the 444 Time crew will move from the warehouse building to a nearby barn, with a large enough piece of land for the children to plant gardens and enjoy nature. In fact, she plans for the spot to be a place of community support and rejuvenation.

Utsch is well known in Healdsburg as the owner and creator of Jendala Recycled Metal Arts. The business celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and its success has helped Utsch earn a living and launch community projects such as Heartizens.

Her metal chimes and banners feature affirmative words like “Believe,” “Gratitude,” “Peace,” “Imagine” and “Joy,” and simple imagery to uplift spirits and to draw focus to the positive things of life.

Utsch’s optimistic focus led her to write a children’s book that she published herself a year ago, in collaboration with illustrator Tara Seren. The book, “Scooter the Loquatian, Wings to Fly” is about an owl who lives in a loquat tree and learns the power of both imagination and believing in oneself. Scooter came to Utsch in a dream in 2008.

The book, as well as the world of 444 Heartizens St., both tie back to Utsch’s Land of Jendala.

Each Wednesday, the youngsters have a snack, then spend time in a circle, sharing their day. They discuss the practical rules in the Land of Jendala. Next they have an art activity. They end 444 Time with music.

Their current art project is to use clay to create a physical manifestation of a quality they possess. When the clay is dry, the students will paint their artwork in colors that also represent those qualities.

The students are ebullient, articulate and passionate about Jendala, their name for Utsch, and their program.

LAND OF JENDALA

The after-school program has openings for more students at 444 Heartizens St. Cost: The program per student is $250 per semester or $100 per month. Registration is limited to 12 students.

Information: To find out more or to register for the workshop, email info@jendala.com.

NOV. 9: Jendala’s 11th Annual OPEN STUDIO

This event will benefit Heartizens, from 2-8 p.m. Nov. 9. From 2-5 p.m. there will be art activities for kids. After 5 p.m., there will be wine and beer, a silent auction, raffle and live music. The event will take place rain or shine. 444 Moore Lane.

Information: heartizens.org

Alexandria “Ali” Battles slid residual clay through her hands, a clearly tactile experience for the young girl, who is nearly 7. The clay project she just finished is a doughnut. When it’s dry, she’ll paint it and take it home.

“I like the feel of the clay,” Ali said. “We can make anything we want.”

Claudia Carpenter is 10 years old and a student at the Fitch Mountain Campus of Healdsburg Elementary School. She, too, made a doughnut.

“We’re making qualities into a thing,” she explains. “My quality is sweet, and a doughnut is food that’s sweet.” Claudia plans to paint the doughnut cream with strawberry icing.

She goes on to explain more of the program that she’s been with for two years.

They create plays, become characters from the Scooter book and take on super powers, such as invisibility, flying and stealth good deeds, which are positive actions taken on quietly.

“We use our imaginations and creativity,” Claudia says. She enjoys their plays and skits.

Monica Smith, the mother of Jackson, a first grader at Healdsburg Charter School, said she learned of the program from Claudia’s mother, Mandy Carpenter. She said Jackson is thriving in the program, which helps him focus.

“It’s the perfect place for him to express himself in singing and dancing,” she said.

The 444 Time crew also goes on field trips to local restaurants and walks around town observing nature in the park. They also play games, such as freeze dance, which several kids mentioned in interviews.

They’ve followed Utsch’s “jingle cart” (a chime-loaded converted bike, with space for two students behind) on their bikes or walking in the Future Farmers’ Country Fair Twilight Parade.

Heartizens has received its nonprofit status from the state. There are four board members in addition to Utsch, Robert Pousman, Julie Etchell, Antonia Nell and Sharon Palmer. The chief financial officer is Stephen Piester.

For more information about the organization, visit heartizens.org.

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