Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cook Library Scholars Help to Create 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 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 Cook Library Scholars 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

An 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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meet Emily, GAAH's Super Star

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities has a new super star, and her name is Emily. Emily is a poster child for GAAH for a variety of reasons. First off, Emily has been a lead Believe 2 Become (B2B) student in our program for three years. [B2B is a collaborative partnership of hundreds of organizations and individuals who believe in the unlimited potential of Grand Rapids children, expecting them to succeed.] For two of those years, she was a participant at the Cook Library Center where she had perfect attendance. She was also a top reader among her class, learning how to read in English at the start of her participation three years ago.

This year, Emily again became a top reader and received a perfect attendance award at the Cook Arts Center. She has been described by the Cook Arts Center Program Director, Steffanie Rosalez, as an optimistic person who is always willing to help others. “She always takes initiative and is very kind,” Steffanie said. This fall Emily will be entering the third grade at Southwest Community Campus.

Emily was also a student in the 2014 Girls Rock! Grand Rapids (GR!GR) summer camp hosted by the Cook Arts Center. GR!GR is a group of women dedicated to empowering girls through music. The camp, in partnership with GAAH, is held every summer at the Cook Arts Center. In order to be enrolled in the program, Emily had to complete an essay which was accomplished with flying colors. One of the youngest of the campers, she was in a band named “Rainbow Dash” after the My Little Pony character. She helped write their song, “Rock that Dash,” and played the keyboard with confidence and skill. She also wrote a short piece as a side project titled “I Love Cake.”

Emily's entire family knows the value of education. Her mother, Rosa, has completed her sixth month of tutoring through the Literacy Center of West Michigan, and her twin brothers have been in the B2B program for the past three years as well. This family is certainly on the road to success.

 Photo by Jacki Warren Photography
  Photo by Jacki Warren Photography

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.