Healthy U gets a new executive director

The recently hired executive director of Healthy U is excited to share her ideas for new programs, as well as for the revitalization of a few older ones.
Sarah Kitting moved to the Valley in 2020 with her husband and their one-year-old child. Kitting grew up in central Pennsylvania and moved to Portland after she graduated college with a B.S. in geology. She is new to the Valley and new to working in the nonprofit sector and brings a lot of highpower skills in mental health for youth and restorative justice to the job.
Kitting was working at Healthy U when Executive Director Lindsey B. Jones took the opportunity to serve as the executive director at I.V. Community Development Organization, where she was doing the majority of her work. “Sarah had been on our staff doing excellent work and we all knew she would be a great leader. She is very passionate about our work and practices all sorts of tactics for the health of the mind, body and heart. Passing the torch to Sarah was a great relief as I knew the organization would be in great hands. I am still teaching yoga and chair fitness and will be around in an advisory capacity for any questions Sarah might have,” explained Jones.
When you talk to Kitting, you realize what a perfect fit she is for leading Healthy U.
“I learned in my youth mental health first aid training that a reliable, non-judgmental adult is THE biggest protective factor for mental health in youth. That’s what I hope to provide. I don’t ever remember an adult talking to me vulnerably when I was a teenager about life struggles and healthy ways to manage stress. If anything, I just want to provide a space for the youth to open up and feel like their struggles matter,” said Kitting, adding, “Mental health first aid involves a person who has been trained to recognize early warning signs for mental health issues/crises, and how to help those youth find appropriate help. My ultimate goal is to get a master’s in social work and become a licensed clinical social worker.”
Other ideas Kitting has for Healthy U include the return and revitalization of historically successful groups like “Quest” and “Passages.”
“Since COVID, I have heard enough school personnel express the need for mental health supports for youth, and I want to make sure those spaces are available to youth in the Valley,” Kitting said.
New programs include “Music” and “Magic,” which provide time for kids to create their own songs and plays, as well as “Parents Night Out,” where participating parents get four hours of free child care, including dinner for the kids and entertainment while parents get to do whatever they want. “To provide a guilt-free, monetarily free, QUALITY option for parents and caregivers is amazing,” saod Kitting.
Chelsea Handler, the leader of the entertainment for the children, is a trained early childhood educator and frequently consults for other early childhood providers in the area.
Kitting is also excited to bring her experience with restorative justice into play. “My personal interest lies in mental health support and wellness. Restorative justice is based on the Indigenous practice of circling. For one, a foundation is laid within school culture that involves students helping to create classroom guidelines and holding community building circles in the classrooms where students check in with each other.
“These aspects create a sense of involvement, connection, and accountability amongst each other. Then, when a student missteps, such as cursing out a teacher, that student is not just suspended or expelled, but instead a ‘restorative circle’ is held between the restorative justice facilitator, offending student, victim (teacher), and any other witnesses or support people, where the offender has the chance to take accountability, explain their side of the experience, as well as hear how it affected the teacher.
“To me, it’s a much more logical, humane way to handle conflicts. It also yields much better results in the long run. What’s important to note is RJ is NOT a program…it’s a culture shift,” Kitting explained.
In addition to programs for families, Healthy U also provides services for older residents of the Valley. Chair fitness is geared toward seniors, but they offer yoga and meditation as well. Yoga is sliding scale, and meditation is by suggested donation although no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Kitting wants to expand client diversity and “for that to happen I would love to hear what can help support more people to take advantage of all we have to offer!”
She said that if there is something people would like to see (like a parent’s support group, affordable childcare, etc), to let her know. “We try to do our best with the talent and skills we have, and what matters most is what the community needs.”
If you were wondering what is going on with co-creator and former executive director of Healthy U, Nicole Rensenbrink, she is focusing on her counseling and therapy for clients and also helps facilitate the Chronic Conditions support group along with Kitting.
Healthy U is located at 535 E. River St. in Cave Junction in the Illinois Valley Family Coalition building. You can reach the staff by calling 541-592-4888.