Before joining Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA) as staff, Jules Hepp worked with us as a teaching artist throughout the coronavirus pandemic. To celebrate Jules’ one-year anniversary with DNDA as our environmental education coordinator, we want to look back at their time as a teaching artist for this month’s installment of “Artist Spotlight.”
Jules followed their life-long passion for teaching the integration of arts and environmental science while inspiring students to engage with their community and local land. In their search for Seattle nonprofit organizations that share their mission, Jules found DNDA. The two were an instant match. In early 2019, Jules started working as an EcoArts teaching artist with DNDA.
“I was looking for places to fulfill the different things that bring life to my work,” they said. “When I saw the opportunity to teach ‘EcoArts’ with DNDA, it felt right.”
Around the same time, Jules moved to West Seattle and dove headfirst into acquainting themself with the community. They quickly started developing mentoring relationships with youth, ranging from little kids to young adults – but Jules says the kids teach them just as much as they teach the kids. Jules works to help empower youth and their communities by providing hands-on opportunities to learn about their local environment. They keep in touch with many of the families they have interacted with over the years.
“I have seen so many kids build confidence to talk about the park in their neighborhood and encourage others to care for the land after engaging with them,” Jules said.
Jules says one of their most cherished memories while working as a teaching artist took place at a spring program at Camp Long in 2019. When working in nature, young kids are often captivated by many concurrent events – from wildlife to wind in the trees – but on this day, one student was singularly and deeply curious about salamander eggs. It warmed Jules’ heart to be able to thoroughly explore a piece of nature with the student and see their youthful eyes light up.
“In my work, I often ask myself, ‘How do I make space for people beyond me? How can I deeply and intentionally foster a connection between ourselves and the multi-being world around us?’ This felt like one of those moments,” Jules said.
“I am deeply focused on making sure we cultivate many opportunities for youth to connect with Black-led, Indigenous, and person-of-color-centered spaces,” they continued. “That also means holding space for complexity. As a White, queer, and trans person, I am always trying to find ways to unlearn the ways White supremacy has shaped my understanding of environmental justice in the pursuit of anti-racism. I want to make sure that youth see themselves, know there are many options to ignite the passions they have, and feel empowered to do this work in nature.”
Beyond their time as a teaching artist, Jules often leads nature-inspired block printing classes for youth. Block printing is similar to making a large stamp using wood, rubber, carving tools, and a lot of creativity. Jules’ other projects have been held at camps, DNDA’s affordable housing properties, and local parks – such as Camp Long and Longfellow Creek – and include building fairy houses using natural materials, painting murals, and creating Play-Doh creatures.
Next up for Jules is growing DNDA’s Environmental Justice Program for youth, which was a major success in its first run earlier this year.
To learn more about becoming a teaching artist with DNDA, click here.
— Written by DNDA’s Communications Team