I am a Hudson Valley Parent - Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt

Lighting the Spark

Hudson Valley mom lights the spark to her children's creativity

A few years after graduating college, Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt and her husband looked around at the town they were living in on Long Island and decided it wasn’t home. “We realized that wasn’t the community we wanted to raise a family in, and stay in,” she recalls. So the couple quit their jobs and spent the next few months traveling the country, trying to find where they fit in. They ended up in Stone Ridge, NY, where Fenichel-Hewitt’s brother was living and not far from where she grew up in the first place. 

“The Hudson Valley has an amazing sense of community, and I don’t say that lightly,” she said. Back on Long Island she worked as a community organizer and knew hundreds of people, but she almost never ran into them out on the street. Yet when she moved back to the Hudson Valley, she kept running into the same five people she knew in town over and over again. “I realized that this community is actually a community!” she said. “You walk out your front door and you see people you like, that you’re familiar with and who understand you a little.”

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Parenting and working on her career brings many joys

Home at last, the couple had two children: Elias (now 12,) and Cora (now 11.) While her children bring her many joys, one of them is an insight as to how successful her day job is going. Fenichel-Hewitt is the Executive Director of Spark Media Project, an organization that teaches children and teenagers how to make their own short films, as well as how to interpret and respond critically to the media that is increasingly around them for much of their day. Although Spark Media is based in Poughkeepsie, they also offer workshops and classes throughout the Hudson Valley, and her children both take after school classes that the project offers when they occur near their Kerhonkson home. 

“They’ve done mini-movies, stop motion animation, digital character animation, they’ve been involved in writing scripts, acting, directing, and editing,” she said. “It gives me a whole new perspective on the program when my kids come out of a workshop, they’re excited, they’re telling me what they’ve learned that day and that they can’t wait to go back the next day,” she said.” And all the good ideas they come up with at home!  It’s exciting to see that the programming continues when the kids go home.”

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Under Fenichel-Hewitt’s guidance, Spark Media has gone from being an organization carrying a significant amount debt into being a robust economic engine via its Forge Media project, an apprentice production program that pays teens to help produce professional media projects. “They’re gaining skills, building their portfolios and getting the opportunities to work on professional sets with clients in the community who are hiring us to produce commercial work,” said Fenichel-Hewitt. “For many of them, it’s a life changing opportunity.”

Loving so many things about being a parent

That joy that comes in watching the project’s students grow is mirrored in what Fenichel-Hewitt says is her greatest joy as a parent: Watching her own children grow and develop into the funny, confident, and caring people they’re becoming. “I love so many things about being a parent,” she said. “Every age they’ve ever been I can hold onto that, go back to that in my mind, and it gives me different feelings of love every time I remember.” 

As her kids get older, Fenichel-Hewitt is trying to empower them more and more at home: To make their own breakfasts and pack their own snacks for the day. “I’m there, but I’m trying to get them to do more of that themselves,” she says. “Some days we’re on point and some days I'm doing everything while they get dressed because they couldn’t get up on time.”

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As can be expected considering her day job, one of her family's favorite activities after dinner is all watching something on TV together. But just because their mom appreciates the value of media, it doesn’t mean that they get unlimited screen time. “Technology comes into every parent's lives, as far as what is and is not allowable, and we’re no different,” she says. She’s found that having firm rules in place regarding media consumption helps, so the family doesn’t have to have constant debates as to how much the kids can watch and when.

The best part is chatting at bedtime

Once screen time is over the family gets ready for bed, and Fenichel-Hewitt says that’s the time at which her kids are most likely to let their guard down and really open up. “My kids tell me things that I think a lot of kids wouldn’t tell their parents,” she says. “Surprising things come out at bedtime. They’re very honest about their stresses, their interests, and questions they have about the universe. That’s probably the most special part of my day.” Stresses, interests and questions that her kids know they’ll have further opportunities to explore the next day when they, like so many other lucky children here in the Hudson Valley, get to head back into a Spark Media Project workshops.

Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer and his work appears throughout the Hudson Valley.

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