Friday, November 14, 2014

The Cook Library Center: A Space for All

Edgar, a fifth grader at Burton Elementary School, is one of the 21 students who attend the Cook Library Center who can proudly call himself a Cook Library Achiever. As a student who visits the library daily, he enjoys art, recycling, and playing soccer. His favorite creative activity is drawing cars. Edgar’s parents, who emigrated from Mexico, are agricultural workers; his father harvests flowers, and his mother carrots. Although his family’s primary language is Spanish, Edgar is learning to read and write in both English and Spanish, giving him the distinct skill of being a bilingual and biliterate child. Edgar sees his career being a necessary step to personal success. He said, “I want to save money to buy my very own house.” In fact, he looks forward to painting it himself.

Young Edgar is a great example of how the Cook Library Achievers program allows for students who are not enrolled in the Cook Library Scholars program to still receive the attention, tutoring, mentorship and guidance that they deserve. The program, sometimes warmly referred to as “The Overachievers,” mirrors the Cook Library Scholars. Participants get a name tag, have a meal time, receive homework help and tutoring, have their homework reviewed, and are guided to read for 20 minutes. Once those activities are finished, they are invited to play fun spelling or math games.

Sue Garza, Director of the Cook Library Center, said that the achievers are treated with exceptional care. The program has proven to be a safe space that allows youth who cannot be a part of the scholars due to capacity limitations, scheduling conflicts, or simply the fact that they are not neighborhood residents, to still grow from the enriching programs that are offered at the Cook Library Center on a daily basis. Being committed to providing engaging afterschool programs to the youth in the neighborhood, she reflected, “It’s really important for me as the director of our local library to help the community as a whole.”  

Edgar, a fifth grader and Cook Library Achiever, works on his homework with a volunteer

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Expanding Horizons

This fall our students and their families expanded their artistic and cultural horizons with field trips to several venerable downtown institutions.

The Andy Angelo Press Club visited ArtPrize the weekend it opened where they had a unique opportunity to talk to several artists about their motivation to enter the competition. Some of the students were surprised at what they learned, including the fact that one artist only enters to attract the attention of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” museums. The students then wrote about their experiences which were published on The Rapidian.

The next weekend 25 more students and their families were treated to private tours of two ArtPrize venues: SiTE:LAB and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. At the GRAM the group had the privilege of meeting several artists, including grand prize winner Anila Quayyum Agha. They also were able to get an inside look at one of the pieces to which they could easily relate titled “I Am Not Who You Think I Am/Yo No Soy Quien Crees Que Soy” by Salvador Jimenez Flores. Salvador spoke about the meaning of his piece in addition to translating for Ron Platt, GRAM’s chief curator, while he led the museum tour. A parent was overheard to say, “I didn’t realize I liked art so much!” When it was finally time to go home a student exclaimed, “I want to stay downtown and look at art all night!”

A post-ArtPrize field trip consisted of a visit to Kendall College of Arts and Design. On the way there, Steffanie Rosalez, the Cook Arts Center’s program director, was surprised to learn that nobody on the bus had ever been to KCAD. After taking a few minutes to describe the college and its important role in the community, she told the students what they could expect during the artist reception and campus tour. Moments later, 60 students filed out of the bus and began exploring the galleries and studios of KCAD's campus for the very first time.

Times like these remind the staff at GAAH of the importance of providing opportunities for our youth and their families. Even though most of our students live near downtown, they seldom have a chance to explore these institutions, learn about careers in a hands-on way, and meet artists, professors, and others who may be able to connect them with life-changing opportunities. GAAH serves as an important liaison between the Grandville Avenue neighborhood and the broader community by providing many residents with a unique opportunity to experience art in a city that is so deeply enhanced by it.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Library Scholars Help With Latino Archive

Carlos Fuentes said, “The United States has written the white history of the United States. It now needs to write the Black, Latino, Indian, Asian and Caribbean history of the United States.”

On September 18 the community celebrated one of Grand Rapids’ first Latino-focused archive titled “Portrait of My Community.” Joined by esteemed guests Mayor George Heartwell, Dr. Paul Kutsche, GVSU’s Dean Anne Hiskes, and historians Tim Gleisner and Gordon Olson, GAAH’s Cook Library Scholars unveiled a series of historical accounts about Grandville Avenue. They were collected by students who are growing up there in partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Kutsche Office of Local History.

The documents include interviews, photos, and videos of conversations between the Scholars and local business owners, inspirational leaders, and other key figures in the community. The students asked such questions “What inspired you?” and “What advice do you have for me?” These interviews were carefully documented, ensuring that this significant history remains accessible for everyone in the community.

The celebration itself, which took place at the Cook Library Center, included an address by Mayor Heartwell as well as inspiring presentations from students Alejandro, Itza, and Angel. After the program, the crowd of family, friends, and community members viewed the display and enjoyed some Hispanic food.

All in all, this poignant project elevates the important voices and history of the people in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood. Not only did the process teach important historical lessons to the youth who worked on it, but its completion will serve as an educational tool to communicate significant historical information in which the entire city can take pride. 


Reyna Garcia and a student with Tim Gleisner, 
Gordon Olson, and Dr. Paul Kutsche

GVSU’s Dean Anne Hiskes addressing the scholars

Cook Library Scholar Itza speaking to the audience

A spectator photographing some of the 
historical pieces that were produced

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Audubon Arts Becomes a Program of GAAH

This September our fall programs kicked into gear, and we are delighted to share the enthusiasm of our students. In addition to continuing our existing programs, we have added a few fresh ones like Pom Dance and a Family Portrait Drawing class, opening the door to new possibilities for neighborhood families.

Audubon Arts is also new this year. This unique collaboration with Junior Audubon Grand Rapids teaches neighborhood youth the art of birds and nature. Thanks to GAAH’s Volunteer Coordinator and Administrative Assistant Bethany Sheffer, this program is available to members of the Audubon Club as well as neighborhood children. The hour-long class that meets once a week introduces youth to a variety of environmental topics through drawing, painting, and mixed media which allow the youth to study nature while tapping into their creativity. Along with artists and conservationists, students go on field trips to local nature centers and parks, introducing them to larger community-based projects such as Celebrate Urban Birds, International Migratory Bird Day, and the Junior Duck Stamp Program.

Studies show that race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status play a substantial role in how often youth spend time in and are exposed to nature. The Audubon Arts program builds the capacity for youth from our neighborhood and beyond to have greater access to green space, nature trails, and educational programming at nature centers. It is our hope that this will allow our students to find meaningful connections to the environment, leading to a greater likelihood that they will defend and care for it in the future.  

Two of our Creative Students

Audubon Arts Teacher Pat Clubine with Bethany Sheffer


The Art of Nature

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

GAAH Welcomes New Staff

After completing a successful first year of programming at the Cook Library Center, the Cook Library Scholars program has hired two new staff members to kick off the 2014-15 school year: Javier Cervantes and Sujey Garcia.

Javier, the CLS Program Manager, was born and raised in Grand Rapids. To say that he is familiar with the Grandville Avenue neighborhood is an understatement. He attended Buchanan Elementary, Burton Middle, and Central High School. His most recent employment was through the Recreation Reaps Rewards / YMCA LOOP program where he served Buchanan Elementary students for five years. In his career, he also worked with students at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary and Southwest Community Campus – both located within the Grandville Avenue neighborhood. Javier is pursuing an Associate’s degree in Child Development at Grand Rapids Community College.

When asked about his transition to GAAH, he said, “I am excited because I want to work with this great community. Plus, I know some of the kids already, so I'm excited to be working with them again.”

Javier’s favorite hobby is singing, though he also loves to dance, particularly in the styles of Cumbia, Bachata, and Merengue. His sister Vanessa is employed at the Cook Arts Center. He has a younger brother named Daniel.

Sujey, the CLS Youth Program Coordinator, was born in California, raised in Grand Rapids, and spent the last two years in Mexico. She also has past experience with neighborhood youth, including the Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth Steil Center where she provided homework assistance. Sujey also worked as an English tutor in Mexico where she prepared children for their move to the United States. She has her Associates in Business Administration from Grand Rapids Community College.

Sujey said, “I love working with children. I am most excited about getting to know them and working with their future development. I want to help get them to college. I know how hard it is coming from a low-income family, and on top of that, a different ethnicity. For them, going to college is hard. I want to give them the push that they need to succeed.”

Sujey enjoys listening to music, reading, and watching soap operas from around the world, particularly South Korea. She said, “I like them because they aren’t like the ones in the US. The ending is not the typical happily-ever-after ending.” She also tries to appreciate the small things in life. She said, “I used to live in Mexico where it was very hard, and everything was work, work, work. Now, I appreciate the small things, like the green grass and stopping to smell the flowers.” She has two sisters and a brother, and her favorite book is “The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom.”
Javier Cervantes and Sujey Garcia

Javier, CLS Program Manager 

Sujey, CLS Youth Program Coordinator