Monterey County youth find "food for the soul" at Sol Treasures
Beyond the hills of Paso Robles and just south of Salinas, there is a wide stretch of farmland. One city that lies in the middle is King City, the home of Sol Treasures.
“This place is like food for the soul. Kids come, parents come, volunteers come,” said Jeff Hinderscheid, the Executive Director of the arts and cultural enrichment center Sol Treasures.
Every summer, they host a children's art camp in the heart of the Salinas Valley to inspire kids of South Monterey County to learn and grow in the world of art. “People show up because they believe in what we're doing,” Hinderscheid said.
On July 25, the first day of their children’s art camp for the summer, kids were dancing, painting, and learning to play different instruments.
Hinderscheid says Sol Treasures was created in 2008 by a group of local artists. It started as a place for artists to call home, quickly expanded into a gallery, and then soon became a safe haven of learning and expression for the kids of South Monterey County. They now provide different forms of art instruction either in-house, or they extend their services as art teachers at the local public schools.
The programs include music, painting, dance, and theater. “South County, King City specifically, is very big on agriculture and sports, but not everybody wants to do that. So we try to give them an option so they can find themselves and what they want to do,” Hinderscheid said. He said one of the many reasons they created Sol Treasures is because of the unique demographics of King City.
“It's one of the largest migrant locations in the world, certainly in the country,” he said. According to Data USA, King City is a predominantly Hispanic/Latinx community, and as of 2019, about 49 percent of residents were born outside of the country. “Their parents aren't taking them to San Francisco. I mean, most parents can't. It's so expensive to get a ticket at all, but it's just such a lost art. Theater people who love theater go to it,” Hinderscheid said.
Jude Yriarte is the grant writer for Sol Treasures. She said the organization is very conscious and intentional towards the communities they work with. “We're very deliberate about diversity, equality, and inclusion. We're trying to teach the children all the time about how to communicate in ways that help bring together ideas, instead of pull things apart,” Yriarte said.
Yriarte said the demographics of King City are only a small part of why they provide these programs. The true meaning, she said, comes from the children’s joy. “It's the best reward to see them downtown and they'll see you with their parents or something. They get very excited to see you.”
Staff say that’s what Sol Treasures is about: seeing that spark in the child’s eye, and allowing them to find joy in art and expression.
Danielle Quijada is one of those students who found joy here. “I'm very shy, but the first day I walked in and I was being very quiet and I murmured my first words to Jeff [Hinderscheid], and he told me, ‘You're in theater now, you cannot whisper.’ We're all family,” Quijada said.
Quijada is a new student at Sol Treasures. She’s from Soledad, which is about 30 minutes north of King City. She said she has always wanted to be a part of the organization. Growing up, she always watched her friends perform, and she knew she wanted to be a part of it. Her favorite memory is working on the Little Mermaid play.
“The first show I did was The Little Mermaid, and that was a lot of fun. My favorite memory is doing ‘She's in Love’ with all the mer-sisters because it felt like we're all real sisters,” she said.
Walking around Sol Treasures, the impression of it being one big family was clear. The children were painting, dancing, and running around laughing like siblings.
17-year-old Hannah Ettinger said she joined Sol Treasures in the fifth grade, when they were working on the play Doctor Doolittle. Ettinger recounted what she loves most about her time with Sol Treasures, “Being with everyone and participating in all these musicals where we sing and dance together, that’s pretty fun,” she said.
That’s what Hinderscheid says Sol Treasures is all about: art, family, expression, and joy. Hinderscheid remembers working his first play, The Lion King Jr.
“I had made sure that our set designer built this thing, that when it raises it looks like the sun's rising out of the stage,” he said. “And then the lights came up to make it turn orange and red and stuff and I remember hearing 800 kids go, ‘Wow! Awesome!’”
Sol Treasures’ summer camp ends this week, but will return next year. They also have programs throughout the year, like a concert series in August and a fundraiser gala in September. More information on the non profit is at soltreasures.com