Jefferson Award Winner Founded Chapter 510By Sharon Chin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) This week’s Jefferson Award winner has a passion for both writing and mentoring Oakland kids who want to put pen to paper.

Janet Heller has quite the childhood story:

“I got expelled from high school,” she recounted. “I had a drinking problem. My parents split, my dad left the country, and I just wasn’t sure how I was going to make it out of high school.”

Until.. she wrote that story down.

“I took my expulsion story and I wrote my college essay about that and I got a scholarship to Tulane University,” she explained.

She’s been writing ever since, and helping young students channel their life stories. Five years ago she started the non-profit Chapter 510 and the Department of Make Believe because she says, “Writing is hard, writing is intimidating.”

Chapter 510 is a youth writing center based in Oakland that provides free in-school tutoring, creative writing workshops, and even publishing opportunities for students in kindergarten through high school. Its volunteers have helped more than 600 students so far — in a city where more than 80% of low-income children fall behind in reading proficiency by third grade.

Aniya Butler met Heller at her school last year.

“I am a singer, poet, and songwriter, so I like to write a lot,” said the sixth grader. “When she gets her mind set to something she will do it. And she likes to introduce the youth most of all because we are the future.”

For Heller, who’s been in Oakland 23 years, raised her kids, tutored and volunteered here, this non-profit is the pay off.

“My whole life I have been a teacher and a writer and a community arts maker. But Chapter 510 puts it all together.”

So for helping young people realize their creative writing dreams, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Janet Heller.