My Day in Precinct 4

By Crystal Simmons

The idea of trying new activities is an appealing one. Most of us like to imagine ourselves learning a new hobby, traveling to new locations, or getting in shape. Then life gets in the way. Like many of my peers, I was always either too tired, too busy, or too preoccupied to try something new.

I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I had a chance to take advantage of the opportunities around me. I spent a full day attending as many Precinct 4 classes as possible. The results were eye-opening. I experienced everything from woodworking and Zentangle to Zumba and kickboxing. I not only met experts with decades of experience but also participated in activities I would never have chosen on my own.

Before getting started, I established a few guidelines. I randomly selected a day so I wouldn’t be tempted to choose familiar activities, and I omitted all festivals. I also only attended free programs open to all age groups. As a result, I spent most of my day at Mangum-Howell Center, but the programs differed so much I didn’t mind.

To help you on your own journey, I’m sharing tips, tricks, and my overall impression of each program below.


8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Instructors: Danny Brown and Perry Badger

Mangum-Howell Center

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t enthusiastic about woodworking. I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts, but anything requiring careful precision has never appealed to me. I prefer eyeballing my projects and making adjustments as I progress. Nevertheless, this class turned out to be my favorite.

I came prepared with cedar pickets, 2x4s, and instructions for a floating shelf pulled from the internet: DIY Wood Floating Shelf.

By the time I arrived, my classmates were already gathered in the shop sipping coffee. I learned that my instructor, Perry Badger, rarely gives formal lessons. Students are expected to bring their own project and work at their own pace. Most of my classmates were experienced woodworkers, so I was lucky enough to have my instructor’s undivided attention for a couple of hours. I showed him my project, and we got started.

I learned that wood selection is everything. Perry picked out my best piece and showed me the flaws in the other pickets. We ended up using a miter saw, table saw, jointer, and planer. I let Perry mark up the wood for cutting, but I ended up doing most of the cuts. The power tools are easy to operate, and I caught on quickly.

My favorite tool turned out to be the planer. This tool smooths large planks of wood, giving them a shiny, finished look. My shelves came out looking great, and the tool probably saved me a few hours of sanding.

Tips: Before visiting, have a project in mind. Plan on downloading instructions from the internet or consulting with the instructor before attending class. Make sure to bring all your materials, including nails, screws, and wood glue. Although you may be able to borrow some supplies, they may not work for your project.

Overall Impression: After only one class, I know how to operate and identify several basic woodworking tools. Under my instructor’s guidance, I never felt anxious about making the wrong cuts. Best of all, I took home a professional-looking floating shelf for only a fraction of the price of a store-bought shelf.


11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Instructor: Senetta Young

Mangum-Howell Center

Zentangle art is like professional doodling, with each line, curve, pattern, and color telling a story. The art form involves drawing patterns using a combination of dots, curves, and lines either on blank paper or within existing designs.

If woodworking is about precision, Zentangle is about embracing your mistakes. Class began with a lesson on colors and the feelings they imbue in your art. After our lesson, I received a Zentangle pattern sheet, markers, and a print-out of a teacup. I tried to mimic some of the patterns in the example pieces, but my lines were sloppy. I asked for a new sheet, but my instructor encouraged me to continue. In Zentangle, she said, there are no mistakes.

I spent the rest of class trying to make something out of the stray lines. The teacup slowly took shape. Eventually, a pattern emerged. By the end of class, I felt confident about my design. I didn’t have time to finish it, but my instructor gave me several sheets of homework. I’ve never been a fan of homework, but I may try these.

Tips: Before investing in art supplies, attend a few Zentangle classes to find out what works for you. The instructor provides shared supplies for new students to sample.

Overall Impression: The class is open to adults of all ages, but most participants are over 30. Students focus on expression instead of precision, and mistakes are celebrated. Students of all abilities can enjoy this class, and most find it therapeutic. Artists work at their own pace and choose their own artwork to decorate.

Art of the Preserve: Flower Pounding

2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Instructor: Jerrel Geisler

Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve

I’d heard of flower pressing before, but flower pounding was new to me. When I arrived at the preserve, my instructor had already laid out freshly picked flowers, hammers, cloth, and a box of canvases.

After a brief lesson, we arranged flowers in a pattern between a folded cloth and used a hammer to “pound” out the dyes. The results were charmingly rustic. My cloth ended up resembling a butterfly in the way that clouds sometimes resemble animals. Although most of the plants produced large blobs of color, others left surprisingly detailed impressions.

As a fun bonus, our instructor shared how Native Americans used flower pounding to extract dyes used to color clothing, skin, and fabrics.

Tips: Expect a new craft for every program, and plan to bring a friend or your family for more fun. Always register before attending class so the instructor brings enough supplies.

Overall Impression: This activity is perfect for families with children and homeschool groups, although all ages are invited. The instructor creates an engaging experience for participants interested in art and nature.


6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Instructor: Juana Hernandez

Mangum-Howell Center

If you want to get out of your comfort zone, try dancing to Latin music in front of a group of strangers. If you’re not already familiar with the practice, Zumba is a popular form of cardio exercise that involves dancing to fast-paced music. When I first entered class, I expected to feel a little self-conscious. After all, I hadn’t taken a dance class since the eighth grade – and I knew the moves to those dances.

But a funny thing happened.

Once class began, I was so focused on keeping up with my instructor that I didn’t have time to consider how I looked. I shook, swayed, and twisted for at least an hour with 30 other people, some of whom were obviously skilled dancers.

When I couldn’t figure out how to do a dance step, I either improvised or waited until I could identify the move. For instance, if my instructor sashayed, I might do a half kick. Although I stayed a few moves behind, I was sweating like everyone else by the end of class. Best of all, the exercises were the perfect intensity for me. I left energized with a pleasant burn.

Tips: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and bring water. I wore a T-shirt and loose pants with Nikes. Classes are almost completely nonverbal, aside from a few Spanish phrases from the instructor. Plan to watch the instructor for directions. If you can’t keep up or if a move is too difficult, take a break and try to pick up on the next move.

Overall Impression: This is by far the most popular class of the activities I attended. It’s geared to residents of all ages, but most participants are between 20 and 40. Although you don’t need to be particularly fit to participate, you should be somewhat healthy. Being coordinated and having a good memory also helps.


6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Instructor: Manuel Rosales

Mangum-Howell Center

When I first signed up for kickboxing, I imagined spending most of the class in a boxing ring sparring with my partner. Things didn’t exactly happen that way. We spent most of class engaged in workouts that would make famous martial artist Chuck Norris proud.

I’m moderately healthy, but I was winded within the first five minutes. I powered through 15 minutes before taking a break. While I recovered, my classmates put on gloves and divided into pairs. The class was small, so everyone received one-on-one time with the instructor. When it was my turn, I borrowed a pair of pink gloves while my instructor showed me the difference between an uppercut and a right hook. By the end of class, my arms and legs were numb, but I can now throw several punches on command.

Tips: Expect two hours of jogging, jumping jacks, sit ups, squats, and other strenuous forms of exercise. Bring plenty of water. If you’re out of shape, plan to hurt the next day.

Overall Impression: Kickboxing classes can be expensive, so I was surprised to learn that Mangum-Howell Center hosts free classes Monday through Thursday. Overall, this is a phenomenal deal for anyone looking to take their fitness to the next level and learn a new skill. This class is perfect for athletically inclined children, teens, and young adults, although all age groups are welcome.

What I learned

My biggest regret was only having time to attend a fraction of Precinct 4’s programs. Now that the challenge is over, I plan to check out the adult nature programs at Jones Park and participate in recreational activities with Trails As Parks. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that attending these classes is far different than reading about them.