Puddle Jumpers’ music teacher leaves behind big shoes to fill

Local literacy program volunteer and music teacher Kendra Apodaca heads to New Mexico; volunteers needed to help keep programs running in Cordova

The Puddle Jumpers have often participated in the parade during the Cordova Iceworm Festival. Photo courtesy Karen Hallquist

In 2011, a group of young Cordova mothers decided that it was time to get together and start a weekly play group for their young children – and the Puddle Jumpers group was born. The PJs combine playtime, music, and other activities for children under 5-years old, to socialize, frolic and learn alongside their peers.

Julie Reynolds and Karen Hallquist are two of the original mothers who started the PJs group six years ago.

“We were just a group of moms who wanted to get together with other moms and kiddos, so we started meeting at rotating homes to let our kids play and visit with each other,” Reynolds said. “Then, as we quickly grew, we met at the Coast Guard Community Center, and eventually it melded into the already-existing tot time at Bidarki Rec. Center.”

Kendra Apodaca, who has led the Puddle Jumpers music class in St. George’s Episcopal Church for the past three years, is relocating with her family to New Mexico. New volunteers are needed to keep the PJ’s Friday music class going.
Photo courtesy Karen Hallquist

When Randy and Kendra Apodaca and their children, Serena, Jolene, and Corbin, moved to Cordova in January 2013, they were quickly enveloped into local community events.

“I met Kendra at the old library during Story Time for Little Ones. We got to know each other there, and then became better friends through our kids’ activities, like Bidarki’s Tot Time, Tee-ball, etc.,” Reynolds said.

In January 2014, Kendra Apodaca decided to add a music class to the weekly list of local children’s activities. The intent was for those classes to be led by a rotating group of parents, but Apodaca became the regular leader of music classes.

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Now that the Apodacas are relocating to Cloudcroft, NM, their departure is leaving a bit of a gap in the youngsters’ usual activities.

“We all just really loved when Kendra led, so except for a few times, Kendra was our musical leader,” Reynolds said. “Both my kids attended her music class, but more so my daughter, Avery. Avery learned songs she loved, and got to play and dance with other kiddos. All the kids loved playing with the instruments!

“Kendra would tell them to be as loud as they could, but that they had to stop when she counted down all five fingers. Then, when she got to zero fingers showing, she would praise the kiddos who had paid attention, and made their instruments quiet at the right time. It taught a couple of great skills: listening and following directions,” said Reynolds.

With Apodaca’s imminent departure, many of the parents in town are reminiscing about their time in Apodaca’s weekly class.

“Every Friday morning, we could meet at the little red church,” said Hallquist. “My favorite part of Puddle Jumpers music was the small town, community feel of the little red church, and the gathering of moms and kids to casually sing a couple of songs, and play music instruments. It was an opportunity for the moms to meet other parents with children of like age.”

Leaving the music class and Cordova Imagination Library will be hard, Apodaca said.

“I started the PJ’s music class three years ago, to bring the joy of music, movement, and words to the preschool age group. We’ve been meeting every Friday, at 10:30 a.m. in the Episcopal church. The class has always been free to the community, and a joy for me to teach! All the instruments and supplies were funded by donations from local parents, and funds from Cordova Imagination Library,” Apodaca said.

Apodaca brought Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program to Cordova, allowing children ages birth to five-years old to receive a free book in the mail once a month.

No one has volunteered yet to step into Apodaca’s shoes and lead the PJs weekly music gathering, or lead the Imagination Library program as chairperson.

“Cordova’s Imagination Library has been providing free books in the mail every month to all registered children from birth to age five. I have been the chairperson for the last three years, and it has been a pleasure to help support literacy in Cordova through Dolly Parton’s fabulous Imagination Library program,” Apodaca said.

Reynolds said both of her children received books through the Imagination Library’s program.

“This is a wonderful program, headed by Kendra along with Denise Hamberger. We are fortunate that these two ladies have kept it going with the generous donations of local businesses,” she said.

“In addition to providing free books for Cordova’s children and sponsoring Puddle Jumper Music Class, Cordova Imagination Library features local readers every December who record holiday stories to be read to anyone who wishes to see them on our Facebook page, leading up to Christmas,” Apodaca said.

Apodaca was also active in the local PTA, and volunteered her time to coach Tee-ball last summer when the community was short on coaches.

Cordova’s Imagination Library books distribution is now on pause, due to a lack of funding. “After the State of Alaska’s budget was severely cut last year, Imagination Library lost key funding, and Kendra and Denise were unable to obtain sufficient local donations,” Reynolds said. “The program needs a new chair, as well as two or three local businesses, to make a relatively small donation to resume book distribution,” Reynolds said.

“Denise Hamberger is my vice (president), treasurer, registration coordinator, and right hand for Cordova Imagination Library. She’s so amazing! In fact, she just helped us secure some funds from the Cordova PTA, to keep our program going for a few months at least,” said Apodaca. “Julie Reynolds and Karen Hallquist have been big supporters and attenders of Puddle Jumper Music Class. Belle Mickelson loves the PJ’s music class, too, and has donated the use of the Episcopal church to us for classes. I will miss all the amazing and musical kids in Cordova, and having the pleasure of working with them!”

Even with the apparent sadness over Apodaca’s departure, the PJs are still on the lookout for volunteers, so that the music class and the Imagination Library program continue to be a part of their children’s usual schedule of activities.

The Puddle Jumpers posed for a photo during a past Tot Time gathering in the Bidarki Recreation Center gym.
Photo courtesy Karen Hallquist
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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson
Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.