Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teen Leaders Have a Say in Park Re-Design

In the neighborhood where they attend school, live and play, on August 6 three groups of teens in GAAH’s teen leadership program presented their ideas to the Parks Advisory Committee for making Roosevelt Park more accessible to the community. They identified three areas of concern:

The first group pointed out the lack of places to escape from the summer heat, both in the park and the neighborhood. They proposed building an indoor pool in the clubhouse. The pool would feature slides, life guards, and other amenities. The philosophy behind their proposal was that the pool would not only provide an attraction for people in the neighborhood, but it would promote diversity by creating a welcoming, safe place for families from other neighborhoods.

The second group identified the lack of restrooms and drinking fountains. Without these basic necessities, visitors are forced to leave to use the restroom or get access to water. This causes accidents, dehydration, and an overall unpleasant experience. The group presented ideas for convenient and well-placed drinking fountains and restrooms.

The third group addressed the safety of the park, particularly near Plaster Creek. They pointed out that the creek is polluted, the stairs are broken, jagged rocks and broken glass are strewn on the walking path, there are no lights in the park, and the steep incline without a fence makes it dangerous to walk to the creek. They proposed having volunteers pick up the area, build trash cans, create fences around the river, repair the steps, create a safe path, install a fence on steep hill, and installing lighting.

A common theme for all three groups was the lack of attractions that make the park a desirable place to visit. Alejandro proposed a mural to make the entryway of the park more visible which included the Mexican and American flag, President Obama and Cesar Chavez, and a globe to symbolize the planet we share.

Steve Faber, Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, reported that the presentation made a powerful impact on the Parks Advisory Committee. Several members mentioned that this was the best advisory meeting they have ever attended, and they invited our students to serve on the neighborhood planning committee and to work with the landscape architect once that phase of the plan begins. 

This initiative is part of a comprehensive GAAH program that prepares teens for future leadership positions in the community.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Teens Work at GAAH for the Summer

“Miss Steffanie, I know this might be a stupid question, but… how do I get the money from this?”

This serious and revealing question was asked by a teen after he was handed his first paycheck ever from the Program Director of the Cook Arts Center. It became clear that not only was he working at his very first job, but he also had never seen anyone cash a check, nor been taught how to do so. Because of this gap in the necessary knowledge that it takes to succeed in the workforce, the experience at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities (GAAH) is a significant one for him and his peers, for it may give them a leg up in preparation for a fiercely competitive job market.

Each summer, GAAH is providing the opportunity for teens to get worthwhile, enriching, meaningful job experience while at the same time helping the Grandville Avenue neighborhood. This summer at the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, 24 teen staff and volunteers are working directly with artists and instructors to ensure a safe and fun learning environment for the elementary school students who are attending.

GAAH works with a number of agencies to provide job opportunities for neighborhood teens, including the Project Cool program, the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, and Steepletown. The Cook Arts Center’s Leaders in the Arts program also has engaged teens at both facilities. Each day, the teens are challenged to take initiative, enhancing their sense of responsibility, leadership, and work ethic. In addition to their hard work, teens are also asked to perform normal job duties such as keeping regular hours, filling out time cards, and behaving in a professional manner.

Program Director Steffanie Rosalez said, “It’s so exciting to see teens from our neighborhood growing and engaging with their community in this way. We have some truly outstanding youth in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, and we are providing special opportunities for them!”

Library Director Sue Garza said, "We have a great crew of teens that are great role models to our students. They are invaluable."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meet Angel C., a Cook Library Scholar

Angel C. is a notable student from the Cook Library Center who is also part of the Cook Library Scholars program. After spending the last few years at John Ball Zoo School, Angel will soon start his studies at City Middle School.

Angel’s favorite subjects are reading and writing. He also enjoys playing outside and loves to learn through the Cook Library Scholars Program. He said, “You get to learn new things in Khan Academy (a non-profit educational organization’s website which features thousands of educational resources). I learned multiple steps, division, and word problems. I don't like math that much but I'm getting to know more about it. Last year I was struggling but now my grades are getting better.”

Angel appreciates the homework help that is provided, mainly because his mother speaks very little English. He said, “You get to read a lot and learn new words in books,” and that, “If you're struggling with anything, you can get help."

This summer, Angel and his fellow classmates are enjoying oral history tours through the neighborhood led by Grand Valley State University. They ask questions such as, “Will you pass your business along to your family when you get old and retire?” and “Do you like working here?” They receive many moving answers about following their hearts, staying motivated, and working hard.

In addition to the tours, the Cook Library Center has a reading club, drop-in activities, language and math stations, and laptop use for learning. There are several older teens interviewing students and younger teens assisting with science. Other fun and notable offerings include a robotics class with GR Makers; a lush garden and a class on food, nutrition and food justice for kids; a class using poetry and art to explore the issue of immigration; a Leadership Council service project at Roosevelt Park in collaboration with Friends of GR Parks, the YMCA, and Kent County Health Connect; and a family workshop in partnership with LINC on how to save for college.

Kids from the Cook Library Center outside of Sabour Latino, a local restaurant which they visited as a part of their oral history tour. 
Cook Library Scholar Angel C. raising his hand to ask a local business owner a question about the history of the neighborhood.
Local business owner shows pride for her own history by holding up a key chain with the flag of the Dominican Republic on it. 
Some delicious carne (meat) empanadas, which was given to the students as they left the restaurant.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Beautiful Summer Outing

A local performance of Randy Wyatt’s “A Sleeping Beauty Somewhere in Time” provided a positive and enriching experience for children from the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center on the beautiful day of June 27. Not only did the kids get to venture out on a Rapid bus ride to Aquinas College, but they also reveled in the beauty that the campus, the Circle Theatre, and the play itself had to offer.

While waiting for The Rapid outside of the Cook Arts Center, the students wore some of their best clothes and had eager smiles on their faces. When the bus arrived, the seats quickly filled up with the youth and their chaperones. The bus commuted to the Central Station where Cook Arts Center students linked up with the Cook Library Scholars. On this ride from southwest Grand Rapids to the east side of the city, some kids seemed to be captivated, looking out the windows at the “mansions” in Heritage Hill and asking insightful questions about buying and renting houses. Other kids waited patiently, while still others wiggled excitedly.

Once the bus arrived at the stop near campus, the group walked through the lush, green streets toward the Aquinas campus, and arrived at the theater shortly. As they lined up to occupy the rows in the darkly lit theater, smoke machines set the tone of the play. One student practiced his reading the program material. “As our play unfolds,” one student read to Miss Taylor, “take a moment to look at the children around you. Are their eyes full of wonder? Do they believe in an evil faery, talking animals, and a happily ever after? Of course. Do they care that they story is a metaphor or a morality lesson. Absolutely not.”

The lights went down, the play began, and the students watched it play out dramatically through a pervasive cloud of smoke, full of highs and lows, moral lessons, and the token happy ending. The students did, in fact, watch in wonder and anticipation throughout the unique twist on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty. Their eyes lit up with ideas, questions, hope, inspiration, sadness, and mystery. When the play concluded, they clapped enthusiastically for the hard work that the performers did to bring the fairy tale to life.

To seal their experience at the theater to memory, the students were given slips of paper for the actors to autograph. Excitedly filing out to the lobby, the students lined up with others from a variety of schools to capture the attention of the different performers. Some asked for their photos to be taken, and many made it their mission to get the autograph of each actor. To conclude the experience, they were greeted outdoors with a snack and juice, and then they walked to the bus stop for the trip home.

This timely day trip allowed for the perfect getaway for the students who recently departed from their regular school schedules. It also gave them the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, view the city from a different perspective, watch an entertaining and enlightening performance, and take home some keepsakes from the journey.  

The Cook Arts Center students' silly photo before the trip

The twins, Laila and Tia, enjoying The Rapid bus ride to the Circle Theatre

Tia, Maynor, Rubi, and Elizabeth

Students waiting patiently in the seats of the Circle Theatre

Piper with King Eli (actor Russ Palmitier)

Huldra (actress Madeline Jones) with three siblings: Estelita, Elizabeth, and Maynor

Piper with the dark fairy, Maelstrom (actress Jackie Green)

Laila with the future prince, Troy (Actor Ben Avery)

Rubi making a silly face with Smerkly (Actor Adam Hyde)

Tia with the gargoyle, Braug (Actor Michael Sali)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Día del Sol (Day of the Sun): A Celebration to Benefit the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center

A lively auction bursting with items from local businesses and artists, a delectable Cuban feast prepared by Tommy Fitzgerald, support from generous donors, a successful partnership with Kendall College of Art and Design, a charming dance performance and Latin music: these are only some of the things that made up Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH’s) 13th annual Día del Sol on June 19. The event was not only inspiring, but raised $48,000 to support the programs of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center

One of the highlights of the evening was the drama that unfolded over two very special auction items. Every year several dozen elementary students from the Cook Library Center sew two quilts for the silent auction, and this year’s quilts were especially beautiful. Two of the students who worked on the quilts, Juan Diego and Estelita, were in attendance to talk about the project—and talk they did! These children did such a good job of promoting the quilts that the resulting bidding wars generated $400.

All of these things helped to make the fundraiser a fun-filled, entertaining, dynamic evening. This unforgettable day was an opportunity to celebrate our vibrant community and to thank those who give their treasure and talent to GAAH.

With the help of this tremendous group of individuals and businesses, GAAH can continue to deeply impact the lives of many Grandville Avenue neighborhood residents every day. 

Juan Diego and Estelita showing off their quilt to Eva Aguirre Cooper

Some special friends at a colorful table with their Día del Sol programs.

Tommy's delicious Cuban feast

Michael the Accordionist

Guests checking out the artwork in the auction

Volunteer Miss Cat and her niece, Piper