If You Can’t Say It, Paint It

Hearts Unknown Education Aims to Help Children Express Trauma

Nicola Carpinelli, the driving force behind Hearts Unknown Education, a wellness program that utilizes creative expression to combat mental health issues in adolescents, formed the program because of his own experience with both depression and art. Born in the U.S. but educated abroad, Nicola was bullied from a young age, mostly due to being raised in a household that was culturally different from his peers, “Everyone around me was raised in a more traditional American household,” Nicola said. “I was raised in a household with more European values.”

The bullying was so severe that thoughts of suicide entered his 12-year-old mind, but artistic expression helped him recover. “It was art that came and saved me,” he said. “Art that brought me out and allowed me to express what I was feeling and connect with the other kids that didn’t think I was too cool.”

Hearts Unknown Education, or HUE for short, is a program offered by the Dead Poets Foundation, which was founded in 2019 by Mariel Hemingway, an actress, best-selling writer and social advocate; Nicola Carpinelli, the renowned artist, entrepreneur and humanitarian; and Dr. Howard Asher, one of the nation’s leading trauma specialists, author and lecturer. Together, the Dead Poets Foundation has pushed for more suicide awareness through the use of art exhibits that specifically feature historical figures who took their own lives.

In 2019, the nonprofit held their first Dead Poets Exhibit here in Bend. The exhibit included paintings of author Ernest Hemingway, his granddaughter Margaux Hemingway, musician Kurt Cobain and travel journalist Anthony Bourdain, among others. “The Anthony Bourdain painting started it all,” Nicola said. “That was the first one.”

Now, the Dead Poets Foundation is fighting suicide and other mental health issues in our community by giving children a chance to express themselves through art, which is the main purpose of HUE. “In the program, kids can express themselves as freely as they want to. They are rather uninhibited, and very creative in their methods,” Nicola said. “Sometimes kids need to express a feeling that they don’t know how to verbally articulate, and that is where HUE comes in.”

While Nicola has an ambitious vision for the future of HUE, he admits that the business side of things is not his forte. For that side, he trusts former Bend City mayor and current grant writer for the Bend-La Pine School District Bruce Abernathy.

“Funny enough, I’ve never considered myself very into art. As a perfectionist, it can stress me out,” Bruce said. “But I do have two daughters who are artistic themselves, and I see how it can positively impact kids. Nicola and I balance each other out; he’s the artistic passion, and I’m the organization.”

In short, you can think of Nicola as the kind of man who draws outside the lines, while Bruce helps him stay in the lines, when he thinks it will help HUE accomplish their goals. Both Bruce and Nicola love Bend for the idyllic mountain town it is, but they also acknowledge that our high suicide rate is extremely concerning. “For a town our size, we actually have very high rates of suicide,” Nicola said. “And during the pandemic, it only got worse.” While the rates of diagnosed depression in teens only rose by a few percent from pre-pandemic rates, that small percent increase amounts to thousands upon thousands more children facing depression than ever before.

Nicola’s background with art and his own mental health issues drives him to try to fix Bend’s suicide problem. Mariel became a social advocate for mental health when it struck her family, and Dr. Howard was brought to the team to assist from a medical perspective and ensure that the program does all it can, while leaving the more severe mental health needs to the medical professionals.

At the end of the day, Nicola’s goal for HUE and the Dead Poets Foundation is to grow with the help of the community. Nicola’s aim is for community members of all ages and backgrounds to come together to combat suicide in our community, in any way they can. A perfect example of this would be the fact that, during our interview together, a woman who teaches art at COCC approached our table and offered to volunteer for HUE, just because she overheard the conversation between Nicola and I. Nicola also recalls buying art supplies locally, and when other customers heard his mission and what the art supplies were going to be used for, these strangers began to offer him cash donations to help purchase the supplies.

“Everywhere I go, I take this passion with me. I communicate it with my art and by sharing art, and when people see that passion for an issue as serious as this one, everyone wants to get involved,” Nicola said. “The hard part is not stretching ourselves too thin, to ensure we can really help those in need, when they need it,” Bruce added.

The Dead Poets Foundation, with the help of the community, will surely become a positive force for mental health in Bend and Central Oregon. With plans to expand in the future and possibly share this model with other nonprofits, Nicola and Bruce hope to see their efforts continue to grow and assist those in our community who really need it.


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