Wichita rocker uses her guitar to beat down bullying

Jenny Wood wasn’t always the confident rocker who could share the stage with Gene Simmons or Def Leppard.

But she always had those dreams.

Along the way, she dealt with her fair share of naysayers, she said. She always told herself: “Don’t let them get in your head.”

Now Wood is helping other Wichita kids find the courage to follow their own dreams.

Wood, a popular Wichita musician who’s quickly finding a following outside of town, has developed an anti-bullying program to take into area schools. She’ll also be presenting the program on Tuesday evening at Riverfest’s RedGuard Stage.

“It’s working,” she said of her program. “Meeting kids that are shy, insecure or who have a situation at home where they’re not encouraged and they come to school and they’re just broken, just trying every day to get by – to show them music or anything creative, they can take the suppression and the negativity and put it into something creative.”

Who is Jenny Wood?

Wood is a hometown girl, though her path took a few loops through other cities before she returned to Wichita.

She left the music theater program at Wichita State University after about 2 1/2 years to pursue a singing gig in Los Angeles, she said.

“It was quite an experience for a 21-, 22-year-old, but I didn’t know anybody and got in the L.A. scene,” Wood said. “I realized I am not an L.A. person.”

She has a gospel-style voice but enjoys playing harder rock – the problem was always how to merge those two seemingly disparate sounds, she said.

“I left (Los Angeles) and moved to Nashville with a band I had played with at WSU, which I loved – they were like sort of heavy, dark melodic rock,” Wood said. “(Nashville) is where I started to find my voice, started to play guitar and write my own songs. … Nashville’s so original and quirky and eccentric – I felt so at home.”

But then she decided to move back to Wichita in her late 20s to be closer to her nieces and nephews. That was about seven years ago.

“When I first moved back here, the scene was a tad different,” she said. “People would say, ‘What are you doing here? Why don’t you try out for “The Voice”?’ It was just you need to go, but go where? To these places where talent doesn’t matter? It’s a matter of if you have enough money, if you’re self-soliciting. That’s what I love about Wichita – the community has been so great and receptive here.”

She began singing with her nieces and nephews more and realized she had a passion for children, she said. That’s when the idea for the “Don’t Let Them Get in Your Head” program was hatched.

“It was like my brain just started working and feeding whatever need I had, to know that I was doing the right thing,” Wood said.

‘Don’t Let Them Get in Your Head’

The “Don’t Let Them Get in Your Head” campaign started with a YouTube video shot at Valley Center Intermediate School.

Some of the lyrics of the song:

“I can’t forget what I am not, and all that I regret. It screams my name – cover my ears till I can’t hear myself.

“It gets so dark out in the world. The sharks have hands. They pry me open for the pearl, but I can hear you whisper, ‘Don’t let them get in your head.’ ”

Generally, administrators invite Wood to come to their schools to talk to students about bullying, finding safe mentors, finding a group of friends that reaffirm instead of tear down, having a “personal anthem” and – of course – to play a few songs, inviting the kids to learn and sing along.

Last year, she brought her program to at least nine Wichita elementary schools.

This year, she’s looking to expand it even further.

Kelsey Bloss, a teacher at Valley Center Intermediate School, said, “The kids can really see themselves through her, and she inspires them.

“The boys go crazy for her; the girls want to be her,” Bloss said. “Automatically it’s just like they’re drawn to her. … She just gets on their level.”

Salms Moore, who just finished fifth grade at Washington Accelerated Learning Elementary School, said Wood’s program helped her “get out of my shell and talk to people.”

“It was good to go see her,” said Salms, who since attending the program has been writing her own songs.

Wood said the goal of the program is to encourage kids to follow their dreams, no matter how crazy.

She did, after all.

“Kids only see the stars on TV – that’s the only thing that can get them out of their situation, and it’s not true – you can be anything within reach,” she said. “There’s such a broad world in between there that I want to address and … let them know that it starts now, that you build yourself. It starts now.”

Wood is currently looking for sponsorship for the 2017-18 school year to expand the program to more schools.

For more information on the program or to request it at a school, visit www.jennywoodmusic.com or e-mail jennywoodbooking@gmail.com.

When: 5-8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: RedGuard Stage, Riverfest (near the WaterWalk)

What: Anti-bullying program featuring Jenny Wood and local students who’ve been through the program. The kids will perform their own songs and show off art as well.

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