From Fun to Future: Local Kids Discuss How Hobbies Shape Their Lives
From helping them de-stress to guiding them toward a future career, hobbies can benefit kids in a variety of ways. Here, local students talk about their hobbies, what they’ve gained from them and local community organizations that have helped support their interests.
A Local Rock Star: Ian Kirk, Fluorescent Rocks
Ian Kirk discovered his passion for geology at an early age. “When I was 5 or 6, we went to the salt plains. And that’s when we got the selenite crystals,” he says. It’s an interest he shares with his mom, a molecular biologist. “My mom actually got into sand, which I would say wasn’t interesting at first,” Ian explains. However, that interest has taken them to Hawaii, to see a rare green sand beach – composed of olivine – and they are currently planning a trip to New York to visit the garnet sand beach.
Now 18 and a freshman at the University of Tulsa studying chemical engineering, Ian’s interest in geology continues to be a big part of his life. Eventually, he hopes to get a master’s degree in environmental engineering. He is a Boy Scout merit badge counselor for geology and mining in society and regularly returns to his middle school to talk to seventh graders about geology.
The Tulsa Rock and Mineral Society (TRMS) had a significant role in Ian’s geological education. He joined in fifth grade. Their Pebble Pups program for kids 18 and younger is a patch-based system similar to Boy Scouts, which allows participants to explore a variety of interests.
This system helped Ian discover his primary interest: fluorescents. “What I liked about fluorescent rocks is, it wasn’t just the minerals we were looking at. We were looking at the process of hitting them with the light and making them glow. And that was very different because I had seen rocks, I had seen crystals, but I hadn’t seen fluorescent rocks as much.”
Julia Allende, who facilitates Pebble Pups, helped Ian build a fluorescent display case, which he enters in the competitive display case category at TRMS’s annual Rock, Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show. She also gave him one of his prized fluorescent specimens. Although many Pebble Pups activities are geared toward younger kids, Ian appreciates that Julia helps the older kids explore their own interests.
“There’s so many different ways to look at geology,” Ian says.
The Value of Hobbies
“I’d say hobbies have helped me figure out what I like,” Ian says. In fact, he graduated high school having participated in 18 different clubs and organizations. “I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to sit still. I just can’t do it,” he says.
Practically, Ian says hobbies look good to colleges and businesses. They can also teach students about leadership and expose them to various leadership roles.
Supporting Your Budding Rockhound
- Join TRMS for just $15 per year per family.
- Attend TRMS’ annual Rock and Mineral Show, July 15-16, 2023, at Expo Square.
- Visit the Cox Nature Exchange at Tulsa Zoo
- Take short trips, starting with the selenite crystals at the Great Salt Plains.
- Keep an eye out for interesting rocks on the side of the road – or wherever you are!
Blown Away: Autumn O’Leary, Glassblowing
Fifteen-year-old Autumn O’Leary’s interest in glass began by collecting glass pieces from places like Hobby Lobby and Home Goods. However, it wasn’t until she saw Netflix’s glassblowing competition show, Blown Away, that she considered pursuing glassblowing herself.
With her mom’s help, she discovered Tulsa Glassblowing School (TGS), which offers “experience” classes, where you can make your own glass work in a single setting. After making ornaments, a paperweight and more, Autumn is ready to take her first six-week class at TGS. And, although she is early in her glassblowing career, she already sees it as being an important part of her future.
Glassblowing is a hobby unlike any other. It brings you into close contact with extreme heat and, inevitably, broken shards of glass. But Autumn loves it. “The risk factor adds even more excitement to it. Because you’re right next to the furnace, and you can feel so much heat blowing on your face. And you’re like, ‘I’m sweating, but I love this!’ It’s pretty incredible.”
The fragility of glass, she says, is “terrifying.” But because of this, “You put more care into it. You try to be more delicate with it, so you don’t break this thing that you spent like an hour making.”
Although she didn’t take her first glassblowing class till her teenage years, Autumn appreciates that this reinforced the idea that you’re never too old to pick up a hobby.
Autumn’s mom, Delina O’Leary, says she tries to give her daughter opportunities to try new things and explore interests as much as possible. In the past, Autumn did dance, but “That’s just not her,” Delina says. “But giving them the experiences that we can, when we can. I feel like it narrows down for her what she’s really interested in and likes.”
Getting Into Glass
- Try one of TGS’s glassblowing experience classes
- Visit TGS to see the work on display, possibly at one of their annual studio sales
- Visit Oklahoma City Museum of Art or Crystal Bridges, which have fabulous Chihuly exhibits
- Philbrook Museum also has some glass pieces in their collection
A Creative Equestrian: Elizabeth Zurita, Horseback Riding
“I have loved horses for as far back as I can remember,” recounts Elizabeth Zurita, age 12. This began at age 3, when she chose horse-themed bedding for her first “big girl bed.” “From then on, I begged for lessons, began drawing [horses] and, as I got older, reading everything I could about horses,” she says.
But it wasn’t until February 2021 that Elizabeth finally began riding at Saddle Time in Broken Arrow. Now, she takes weekly lessons and has progressed to the point where she can compete. Her first competition in September 2022 was a success. Elizabeth and her horse, Nala, took home several first-place ribbons and won the title of overall Grand Champion.
Funding Your Hobby – and Thinking Outside the Box
“Riding is very expensive,” says Elizabeth. Her first competition cost about $500, which included horse rental, transportation and multiple entry fees.
To raise the funds, she and her family came up with a plan incorporating one of Elizabeth’s other hobbies, drawing horses. She sold her drawings for $1 each, with her mom using social media to spread the word. “After about 6 weeks, I had reached my goal [of $500], and it felt amazing!” says Elizabeth. “Seeing what I was able to accomplish made me feel so proud and strengthened my determination to do my best at the competition!”
Her parents also contributed by purchasing the required competition clothing, and her aunt custom-made her riding jacket.
Other Ways to Engage
Beyond drawing and riding horses, Elizabeth makes custom leather saddles for her horse collection, hoping to someday make her own full-size tacking gear.
She also reads everything she can about horses, researching horse breeds, horse anatomy and famous horses such as National Velvet and Seabiscuit.
“Horseback riding is my passion,” she says, “and there is no better feeling than knowing what you were born to do.”
A Rewarding Hobby: Sparrow Jaris, Fencing
After her karate studio quit offering lessons, 15-year-old Sparrow Jaris’s dad started looking for a sport for her to do to supplement her other hobbies: robotics, hiking, playing Dungeons & Dragons and video games. His search led him to the Tulsa Fencing Club. “The reason I started fencing is because my dad encouraged me to,” Sparrow says, “And I’m really glad he did!”
Tulsa Fencing Club
Tulsa Fencing Club (TFC) meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at Southminster Presbyterian Community Center (3500 S. Peoria). Their one-month Beginning Fencing class, a pre-requisite for club membership, costs $85. TFC supplies equipment for beginners.
Sparrow estimates that she spends about two hours at TFC each week and tries to practice at home when possible. Recently, she participated in her first tournament, placing high in the Mixed Open Sabre category.
If you’re considering fencing as a hobby, Sparrow recommends that you give it a try. “I really like how nice the other fencers are!” she says. “Fencing is very rewarding but very difficult.”
Dancing Out of Your Comfort Zone: Anna Gatz, Swing Dancing
Homeschooled senior Anna Gatz has been dancing with The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) since 2016. Originally, she went with her family to TOSS’s bi-monthly swing dances, held at the Southminster Presbyterian Community Center. Now, she typically goes by herself or with a group of friends, making the drive from Coweta. Each class begins with a 30-minute beginner lesson, followed by a social dance for all ages.
Anna credits swing dancing with helping her overcome shyness by consistently getting her out of her comfort zone. “I was a very shy child,” she says. “After I started swing dancing, I kind of bloomed. I would have lots of different people come and dance with me, and I had to talk to them. So it really brought me out of my shell.”
More than that, she says that this newfound confidence gave her the push she needed to audition for a musical theater production, something that had always been in the back of her mind but that she hadn’t tried until last year. Now, she plans to major in musical theater, with a goal of possibly starting her own theater company someday.
From COVID Quarantine to Community: Alaura Prentice, Latin Dance
Alaura Prentice’s father introduced her to Latin dance during the pandemic. Already a member of Latin Dance 918, he needed someone to practice with during quarantine. As life got back to normal, 17-year-old Alaura stuck with her new hobby. Although Alaura is not currently enrolled in a Latin Dance 918 class, she has been in the past and still enjoys going to Friday night social dances.
Latin Dance 918
The mission of Latin Dance 918 is “to offer everyone the opportunity to experience the joy and collective healing of Afro-Caribbean/Latin dancing in an inclusive community.” The non-profit does this in a variety of ways, from providing dance classes to weekly social dances, connecting with local DJs and musicians, etc. They also perform at community events, such as the Pride Parade.
“A year ago,” recounts Alaura, “there was a performance at Gathering Place. It was one of my first performances, and there were so many different styles of dancing going on. We were dancing on stage, and then everyone around started dancing. It was such a great experience.”
Most people who take classes with Latin Dance 918 are adults, so Alaura recommends families with younger children start by attending social dances. “If a young one is interested and you show up there,” she says, “everyone would be so welcoming to teach them and to get them resources on other dance classes they can take.”
A Local and Global Community
This welcoming spirit is part of what she loves about Latin dance. Not only has Latin Dance 918 created a strong local Latin dance community, but Alaura is also now connected to a global community of dancers.
“There are dance socials all around the world that people would travel to just to dance,” Alaura says. “I definitely see myself in the future traveling and dancing around the world.”
In fact, Alaura sees community as a key reason why hobbies can be good for kids. “As a teenager,” she explains, “sometimes you feel that you don’t belong in certain areas, and then you get to experience the hobby and you’re, like, really good at something or you have a passion for it. It makes you feel like, ‘This is something I would like to do. This is where I belong.’”