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, 2014. 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 CircleTheatre, 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

Stunning visual art, a delectable Cuban feast, a successful partnership with Kendall College of Art and Design, a charming dance performance, one-of-a-kind t-shirt screen printing with Citizenshirt, devoted volunteers and staff, a lively auction bursting with items from local businesses and artists, vibrant quilts, animated networking, Latin-flavored music, and the presence of neighborhood youth: these are only some of the things that made up Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH’s) 13th annual Día del Sol on June 19, 2014. Needless to say, the event was not only inspiring, but also enormously successful.

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 the vibrant community of underserved neighborhood youth. Moreover, it was an occasion to thank those who give their treasure and talent to the organization, making the important work that is done daily possible.

With the help of this tremendous group of individuals and businesses, the organization can continue to deeply impact that lives of many Grandville Avenue neighborhood residents every day. The benefits that these families receive from the programs are immeasurable. Día del Sol is an important staple in the colorful fabric of what makes up the organization holding all of the unique individuals that make it up together. This yearly event provides a consistent reminder to all involved with GAAH just how amazing the organization truly is.
Juan Diego and Estelita showing off their quilt to Eva Aguirre Cooper

Some special donors 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 neice, Piper

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

GAAH Partners with César E. Chávez Elementary School to Kick-Start Students’ Summers

A week before the last day of school at César E. Chávez Elementary school, the students had the opportunity to participate in activities arranged by the committed and dedicated staff at both the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center. By providing these pre-summer activities, the organization aims to inspire the kids to continue to use their imagination and literacy skills over the course of the few months that they will be away from their regimen with their educators. Not to mention, the collaboration supports continued organizational efforts to sustain creative, effective, strategic partnerships with a variety of facets city-wide. Naturally, this school is an ideal partner for Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities (GAAH).

Thus, between Tuesday, June 4 and Monday, June 9, both facilities of GAAH had the opportunity to meet a myriad of new elementary school students. These children, grades K-5, poured into our facilities with enthusiastic energy to create, explore, dance, and play. They participated in various activities, including Father’s Day card-making, flower designing, breakdancing, painting, crafts, reading, and more.

For some of these children, the experience of working with the teachers and staff of GAAH was a first. In fact, when given a tour of the facilities, many of these students could be overheard gasping in awe, saying things such as, “Oh, it’s so beautiful!” And once the activity for the day was complete, the Program Director invited them to sign up at absolutely no cost. When some students heard that they could attend for free, their eyes lit up, and it was apparent that they had already fallen in love with the organization and its mission.

Some of the regular students who have experience with GAAH’s programs conveyed their enthusiasm in a different way. In fact, two Cook Library Scholars wore their name-badges from the program to this outside activity, ultimately indicating their pride, feeling of a sense of belonging, and ownership to the program. In the end, this gesture is a great way to indicate the success of the first year of the Cook Library Scholars.

All in all, this fruitful partnership with César E. Chávez Elementary and GAAH benefits both parties. GAAH is able to attract new students who ultimately will make up the body of the future after-school programs. In turn, the school benefits as a result of the activities, which are planned in hopes that students will be invigorated with enthusiasm for learning, passion for art, and commitment to accomplishment.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Cook Library Scholars Celebrate a Year of Abundant Success

On the chilly fall day of September 16, 2013, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities took a large and meaningful step forward: the staff and volunteers welcomed 31 elementary and middle-school students and their families into a unique program called the Cook Library Scholars. This program, being a new addition to an ample list that GAAH provides, was created with two intentions. Its main focus is to prepare youth in the neighborhood to achieve academic success, positioning them to become the leaders of tomorrow. After-school and summer support in reading, writing, math, a mentorship program, arts education, and leadership and life skills training are only few of the activities designed to help the scholars succeed in school and beyond. A secondary and equally important goal is to engage their families in order to ensure participation, accountability, and commitment. Therefore, further programs have been developed to involve them in a deep and meaningful way. To ensure the connection of families, one dedicated staff member holds monthly parent activities, including workshops and conferences.

In addition, the generosity of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Steelcase Foundation, and the Wege Foundation makes it possible to provide the first three years of the program for absolutely no cost to qualifying Grand Rapids Public Schools students who live in the Grandville Avenue/Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Moreover, the program is year-round, and it’s designed to be present in the lives of the inaugural class, and all students following, until they graduate college and climb the ladders into their careers.

Thus, May 29, 2014 was a significant and memorable day in Roosevelt Park for everyone involved in the program. The birds were chirping, the trees waved gently in the breeze, the sun was shining, and many neighbors were outdoors. After a year of hard work and perseverance that the program’s staff, volunteers, families, and scholars displayed, they could finally kick back and rejoice in all of their triumphs with their new Cook Library Scholars family. Families enjoyed a delicious potluck picnic, complete with a dessert of cake, cupcakes, and ice cream. 

“Certificates of Participation” were awarded to the parents who came to workshops and active in parent enrichment activities. Scholars also received awards such as “Wise Guy,” “Always Cheerful,” and “Future World Changer,” “Mr. Imagination,” “Endless Optimist,” “Expert Reader,” and “Everybody’s Buddy.” There is such great camaraderie among the scholars, that when awards were being called, they were able to accurately guess who would receive it. 

There were also two raffle opportunities. The first, for an iPod Shuffle, was to encourage reading. For every twenty-five books read, a scholar could place one ticket into the drawing box. The second raffle, which was for a bicycle donated by The Motion Initiative, was awarded to those students who succeeded in the Multiplication Challenge, where they were required to memorize multiplication facts. Essentially, the more successes a scholar had throughout the year, the more tickets they could place into the jar. 

There was also an array of outdoor games, including the water balloon toss, face painting, a beanbag toss, sack races, and even tug of war. These were all thoughtfully arranged by the Cook Library Staff, and were extremely popular with the scholars.

As the festivities commenced, the scholars displayed deep gratitude and sincere joy to be with the people who were there with them every step of the way. The beaming smiles on their faces, their unity with one another, and their high spirits made it clear that the time spent in the program has made a tremendous impact on each and every one of them.

All in all, it is safe to say that these students who were found rejoicing in Roosevelt Park truly have a great reason to do so. Not only are these fantastic kids working very hard to ensure a future for themselves, but they have a state-of-the-art team of leaders, collaborators, interns, volunteers, donors, foundations, and friends that are right alongside of them to help them along the way. If only every child in the world had such a reason to celebrate.