From movies to the Why-MCA

Jentzen Mooney started the YMCA's Creative Club to help kids build mental connections

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Jentzen Mooney chats with few members of his Walla Walla YMCA after-school technology class.

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With Jentzen Mooney, the Walla Walla YMCA's technology instructor, electronic devices are always close at hand.

For a newcomer to Walla Walla and the YMCA staff, Jentzen Mooney hasn't wasted any time making his mark.

Drawing from his experience in Los Angeles as a computer graphics wizard in the movie industry, as YMCA technology instructor he now has local youths producing quality animated YouTube videos as well as snippets of activities at the Y.

On staff since May, right after he arrived here, he has been named the YMCA's Employee of the Month for November and also Employee of the Year.

His class is a combination of using tools, computers and cameras, and urging students to think creatively. He asks questions to get them to think about "whys" and "whats." They are great questions to help the brain build connections about things, Mooney said.

He began the Kids News Club, which soon transitioned into the Creative Club.

"We make videos and animation," he said. "We use paint programs. We dress up and make plays and the kids film them."

Class projects include making YouTube videos, which can be seen at youtube.com/user/wwymcavideos.

"It's about sparking interest," Mooney said. "People who do amazing things, they start young. It's good to get exposed to things."

Youth Development Director Alyssa Latham said Mooney wanted to bring programs to the Y for kids not interested in the traditional sports.

"It's gym and swim and beyond," she said. "Now we get calls from other Y's asking about our computer programs."

Most classes are comprised of fifth-graders through middle school, as well as students in activities with the YMCA Day Camp.

He also teaches a morning computer class for adults who need to begin or to upgrade their skills. To those who might be interested in learning more about computers, he has a question for them, too: "Ask yourself if you have the time and the patience to practice the new things learned."

He and his wife Melissa Davis, a personal chef and food blogger (she also has a twice-monthly local food column that appears in The Walla Walla Valley Weekly) moved here last May from Los Angeles, where they had lived for more than six years. He's originally from Seattle, and with a brother who lives in Walla Walla, Mooney and Davis decided to relocate to the Valley.

The 32 year-old Mooney had worked an intensive career in film-making, visual effects and games. He said he loved what he was doing but wanted to reconnect with his kids - Jaden, 11 and Luna, 8 - on a deeper level. A slower pace in a small town that is strong on arts and cuisine could provide opportunity for both he and his wife.

His 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. average workday with movie-making in Los Angeles wasn't exactly glamorous. That usually goes to the director and the actors, Mooney said.

"I worked behind the scenes empowering the artists," he explained. His work on visual effects and computer programming propelled movies such as "Captain America," "Thor," "Red Cliff,"and "The Green Hornet" to the screen.

Locally, he applies his considerable energy and talent through a number of organizations. He's interested in helping youth in the city's schools, including through HomeLink Virtual School, as well as at the YMCA and at women's shelters.

Anywhere there's a need, he's enthused about helping.

He's been enjoying his first fall in the area with his family, especially the huge piles of leaves at their home.

"I like to throw leaves on the piles of leaves ..." he said.

It's all part of rebalancing his life, slowing down and being more accessible to his family.

"I'm trying to improve myself mentally, emotionally," he said. "I want to focus on being the best dad I can be."

His creativity goes beyond technology and interpersonal relationships.

"I like to make things," he said. "I'm weaving something for my mom. I'm also teaching myself to crochet."

He's also interested in e-sewing, which he described as "sewing with thread that conducts electricity." He wants to create wearable electronics, washable clothing using sensors, switches and lights. He gave the example of a Lilypad sweatshirt, which was invented for bicyclists so they have flashing turn signals on each side of the back of the garment.

Trying something new, even it's going to take some work, is part of the fabric of Jentzen Mooney.

"I can do almost anything if I put my mind to it," he said. "If you want something, nothing can get in your way. Most people give up on something because of time, not being good at something right now."

Rather than being exasperated that he has yet to master something new, he compares his progress today with his progress yesterday. "Yes, some people are naturals, but if you have a love or a passion for something, with time you can achieve great things."

Another possible project he's considering to spawn more interest among youths in science is to experiment with launching weather balloons.

For his students as well as for Mooney, not even the sky is the limit.

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