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Hearts Unknown Education Helps Young Hearts Find Their Home

Local Nonprofit Offers Opportunities for Youth to Discover Creative Wellness Through Art

Article by Lynette Confer

Photography by Miguel Edwards

Originally published in Bend Lifestyle

Last year, an organization arrived on the scene in Bend whose mission is to address the mental health and wellness of our community’s greatest treasures, our youth. Hearts Unknown Education (HUE) is a program of Dead Poets Foundation, and the brainchild and passion project of artist, actor, musician and poet Nicola Carpinelli. Carpinelli has called Bend home for five years and chose this community as the launching site for HUE.

There is no doubt that the worldwide pandemic of 2020 left scars on society and our world.  Anxiety and depression, fueled by disconnection and isolation, lead to a rise in destructive behaviors, including suicide among our youth. According to the Oregon Health Authority, suicide is the leading cause of death among Oregonians aged 10-24. 

During his life, Carpinelli battled his own mental health issues and thoughts of suicide. In 2014, Carpinelli connected with Los Angeles area psychologist and a leading U.S. trauma specialist, Dr. Howard Asher, Psy.D. During his time as Dr. Asher’s patient, Carpinelli began painting again after a 10-year hiatus. The connection between this artist and therapist has been a lasting one, and built a foundation for HUE and the work now being done in our community.

“Dr. Asher and I had an immediate connection. He has such a heart for this work. He offers easy solutions to difficult problems, clear perspective. That’s priceless,” says Carpinelli.

The 2018 suicide of American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had a profound effect on Carpinelli, inspiring him to paint Bourdain. This painting, entitled “Hearts Unknown,” was the beginning of Carpinelli’s “Dead Poets” series which includes paintings of more of his heroes who took their own lives, including Ernest Hemingway, Margaux Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams.

On World Suicide Awareness Day in September 2019, this series went on exhibit at the Peterson Roth Gallery in downtown Bend. “I got a call from Nicola before the event asking me to be there,” notes Dr. Asher. “It was very humbling because he wanted to do this, but felt he could not do it without me.” Also in attendance was actress, author and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway. The event was well attended, with a crowd that overflowed the venue. It was after the momentum gained by this event that Carpinelli, Hemingway and Asher founded Dead Poets Foundation, whose motto is, “If You Save One Life, You Save the World.”

“After founding the Dead Poets Foundation, our next goal was to get this new program off the ground,” states Carpinelli. “I always knew it was going to take a grassroots movement and I knew I wanted to start in Bend.”

In April 2022, Hearts Unknown Education (HUE) welcomed their first four students at Layor Art Supply in downtown Bend. HUE offers creative wellness and free expression classes for at-risk youth ages 8-18. These classes are not just for students who like to paint. “Art is connection, it is at the heart of everything in life,” Carpinelli states. “We offer a safe and supportive space for kids struggling with anxiety, depression, really just struggling to cope with life. We teach them creative utility, or my new word ‘creatility,’ helping them find tools so that they might be able to clear space and face what comes next in life.”

Although talk therapy is a great tool, it’s often not enough. HUE offers resources through their creative wellness programs that are meant to be enrichment experiences, but are not clinical treatment interventions. 

“What we are finding is that all of these kids are full of anxiety. And, I think we can say adults are the same,” Carpinelli notes. “We’ve all gone through trauma. The problem with mental healthcare is that there is no follow-through. With HUE we hope to bridge the gaps. Our goal is to offer real help to real people. My goal is to not lose another young person.”

Asher explains that he finds art an essential part of life. “The number one reason people go to a therapist is all the same… it is because they feel alienated. Art connects us and helps us see each other. Art is for everyone and can be a powerful tool for facilitating healing.”

“HUE isn’t about being artistic or mastering art. This type of art is about release. It’s about finding peace. It’s about having a place to shed grief, pain, trauma, anger — all those burdens no child should carry — without having to explain it to anyone,” states Lisa Riley, a current HUE board member, volunteer and parent of a HUE student.

“Since my son started classes at HUE in May 2022, it’s been a game changer for him and our family,” Riley remarks. “There has been a marked difference in his mental health. As a volunteer I've watched these kids gain confidence, emerge from black clouds and find their joy. We don't always know what they are struggling with, but you can see them release it while they are painting, while they are here. It’s beautiful to watch. Magical, even. It feels like grace.”

Part of the magic with HUE is undeniably related to Carpinelli. Volunteers, board members and parents explain that he has a unique and effective way of forging connections. 

“I felt an instant connection when I first met Nicola,” states former Bend Mayor Bruce Abernethy who currently serves on HUE’s Board. “This is an incredibly authentic person who has so much positive energy and love to give. In class, he is a literal pied piper. He makes such a difference with these kids because he gets down on their level and puts himself in their shoes.”

“Nicola is amazing, he is the heart of HUE,” Riley says. “He was a beneficiary of the many healing powers of art and creativity in his life, so he knows how life-changing it can be. He sees these kids–really sees them–and understands what they are going through in a way the kids can feel.”

According to HUE Board President Megan Pettibone, “HUE is offering an antidote to the disconnection we have seen in kids, in their struggles to connect with themselves and others, and we are only scratching the surface of what we’d like to offer in terms of artistic and expressive exploration. If caring adults can reach kids and provide tools before they are in crisis, the future suddenly looks a lot brighter.”

HUE offers their programs free of charge to students. Because Carpinelli is bilingual, HUE is able to serve the Spanish-speaking community as well. Word has quickly spread, and HUE has grown from the first class of four students to the current class of 18 students. Classes meet twice a week and a session lasts three months. 

Carpinelli serves as the Executive Director for HUE, along with Dr. Asher who actively serves as the organization’s clinical expert, advisor and guide. HUE’s current Board of Directors includes community members from a wide background, including social workers, art/play therapists, artists, teachers, alternative health practitioners, musicians, photographers, retired professionals and more. Bend’s Old Mill District donates space to HUE for their monthly board meetings.

“As an organization, our number one need right now is additional spaces with larger capacity,” explains Abernethy, who also is in charge of HUE’s fundraising committee. “After we outgrew our space at Layor, DIY Cave became a new partner, and we hold classes there now.”

The second need HUE has right now is supplies. “We can easily go through over $150 per week in supplies,” Carpinelli states. “Canvases, paints, brushes, paper, just all the things our students use in these free expression art classes.”

“We provide these classes and services to students and families free of charge and will absolutely continue to do so,” Abernethy says. "Beyond space and supplies, we basically need funding for expenses such as volunteer training programs, staffing, insurance, travel and more. Long term, the vision is to expand this program to include all the arts–music, photography, performing arts, writing and so much more.” 

“We have seen the impact this organization has already had and the difference it is making for kids and families, and we are absolutely confident that we will grow,” Abernethy states. “The angle of the trajectory of which we grow is completely dependent on the support of our community.”

“When I started this painting thing with kids, a lot of people told me not to do this," reflects Carpinelli. "I didn’t listen to them. If I had, we wouldn't be here doing this amazing thing. This is how we change lives. We are helping the kids, but we are really helping us all.”

Contact HUE at 541.213.0679 or

  • This portrait of Ernest Hemingway is part of Carpinelli’s “Dead Poets” series and was part of his 2019 "Dead Poets" exhibit in Bend.
  • Artist, actor and musician Nicola Carpinelli grabs his guitar for some fun at Sunriver Resort with his HUE co-founder, Dr. Howard Asher, Psy.D.
  • Behind HUE are hearts and the vision to move the organization forward into the future.
  • Carpinelli and Dr. Asher met in 2014 and forged a lasting relationship that is a strong foundation for work they do through HUE.
  • Carpinelli and Dr. Asher explain the healing power of art for HUE students and families.
  • Carpinelli and Dr. Asher explain the healing power of art for HUE students and families.
  • As someone who has had his own struggles with depression and mental health, Carpinelli explains his compassion for HUE and the kids they encounter.
  • Our community's growing support of HUE will help them expand their efforts to change the lives of local at-risk youth into the future.