Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cook Arts Center Students Endow Considerable Gifts to the Community

So many times, when we think of gifts, our minds entertain images of objects that can be purchased with money, such as extravagant diamonds exchanged between spouses, everyday cups of coffee purchased for our colleagues, or even generous donations to causes that we advocate for. However, on the sunny afternoons of the first two Wednesdays of April, the Cook Arts Center students gave us something different: without any money, these students provided a variety of substantial, vibrant, impressive gifts to the community of Grand Rapids.

The first example of these incredible gifts is the charming recital that was held for the public, neighborhood families and friends, and our staff. With the intent of displaying all that was learned in the last semester, the marvelous works of art displayed proudly included gorgeous paintings, photographs, sewing projects, and performances. The children played guitar, piano, and drums for a significantly large crowd. They performed a variety of types of dance, including ballet, hip hop, the gorgeous folkloric Mexican dance, and the increasingly popular breakdancing by Aerial Tactic. Members of the audience were smiling, clapping, laughing, and cheering, demonstrating that the richness of their culture spread to everyone in the room, giving them rewards much greater than any gold could. This lively celebration not only allowed the community to see the work and artistic expression of the children in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, but also shed light on the extraordinary culture that surrounds the center every single day.

The second gift that the children of the Cook Arts Center gave to the community of Grand Rapids came from a very unique, unexpected opportunity. As a result of a collaboration with donor who lives at a beautiful local retirement community, Beacon Hill, the boys men of the Aerial Tactic breakdance crew were invited to perform for the senior citizens living there. The afternoon started with the crew setting up their special mat while the crowd began to filter into the room. They seemed unsure of what was going to happen next, but after a brief introduction of the students, the dynamic dancing began. The audience, encouraged to make noise if they enjoyed the moves that they were seeing, proved to be one of the most active, participatory groups that the crew ever performed for. With their laughter, their “ooh’s and ahh’s” and their encouragement toward the young ones to dance their hearts out, a unique, unprecedented energy filled the room. Later, many of the seniors enthusiastically inquired about a variety of things such as, “What is the history of break dancing?”, “How do you keep from hurting yourself?”, and “How does this help with your schoolwork?” The kids and their teacher spoke eloquently to the curious audience, telling them that dance practice taught them discipline, self-esteem, and the payoff of hard work. One student in particular, Antonio, has expressed that breakdancing completely changed his life. This is a primary example of the myriad of gifts that these incredibly talented young people possess, and how the Cook Arts Center provides them a key to unlock them. Moreover, it highlights just a fragment of the potential that they have to make an impact on the community at large, and ultimately, the world.

All in all, when thinking of gifts, it is important to remember that they do not always come in the form of physical things. Thus, the Cook Arts Center’s assistance to the youth of the Grandville Avenue area is not a one-way street. Although it is true that we continue to carry out the mission of enriching the lives of neighborhood youth through diverse and engaging programs at the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, it is also true that they enhance ours immensely in return. Without the neighborhood’s incredible culture, sense of family, ability to celebrate joyously, and the talents of the children, the Grand Rapids community would be lacking tremendously. The Cook Arts Center’s partnership with the remarkable families in this neighborhood allows the students here to discover, develop, and display their artistic talents, which in turn inspires us to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cook Library Scholars Taste the Journeys of "Esperanza Rising" Firsthand

It doesn't matter if you’re wrong or right – you can always start over.

That was what one young Cook Library Scholar took away as the moral of the 2000 young adult novel written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

This book has been the primary reading project for the Cook Library Scholars since mid-January. In its expressive, poetic style, the story follows a wealthy young girl, Esperanza, on her dramatic journey to a poor Mexican labor camp in California during the Great Depression. The sudden move was spurred by her politically driven uncle after he takes her affluent father’s life, burns her mansion to the ground, attempts to marry her mother, and eventually forces her out of her homeland. Eventually, the book celebrates her victory. Despite all of the tragedy that she experienced, and the poor conditions in which she now lives, Esperanza finds the strength to rise above it all in order to embrace her new life in the United States.

As the young Cook Library Scholars gathered around a circle to read the last few pages of this powerful saga, it was clear that they were connecting to the moral of Esperanza’s story. As the assigned readers recited in both English and Spanish, some holding hands, others peering over their friends’ shoulders to view the text within, the expressions on their faces were telling. They can relate to this hard-hitting resolution, as it is one that is very close to home for many of them. In fact, when asked the question by Miss Taylor, “Why does the book say that we should never be afraid to start over?” many eagerly raised their hands. Insightfully, some expressed that, “If you make some mistakes in your life you shouldn't be afraid to come out,” and that, “Esperanza’s life was turned around, and now she has a whole new life.” 

As a seamless conclusion to the celebration, the scholars gathered around a spread of many of the culturally rich foods that Esperanza enjoyed during her travels. The children waited in line to try things such as papaya, cantaloupe, plums, and flan. They even felt the sensation of having mashed avocado in their hands, as Esperanza did when using it to soothe a cut on her own hand. This culmination allowed the scholars, who spent two-and-a-half months reading, listening to, interpreting, and drawing the struggles of Esperanza, to now also taste her journey firsthand.

Moreover, the Cook Library Scholars program, under the umbrella of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, is similar to Esperanza Rising in the way that it aims to provide the young scholars with an equally hopeful, fresh perspective on their own lives. It promises them both a safe space as well as the resources to nurture academic achievement and intellectual growth where they otherwise may not have such a remarkable opportunity. Ultimately, not only did the scholars get a taste of the foods in Esperanza Rising, but they also learned how they can conquer any challenges that face them, both with their new experiences at the Cook Library Center, as well as with the incredible excursions that lie ahead.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

GAAH Goes Around the World! 

To study abroad is to experience a different culture, gain a new world-view and possibly learn a new language. It's an unforgettable experience that has the potential to permanently impact one's life. For that reason, we're very grateful to our friends from the Grand Valley State University Padnos International Center for presenting to our neighborhood about study abroad and its impacts on how we perceive the world around us. Grand Valley State alumni who studied abroad in Europe, Japan, Taiwan and China presented to our families about their own experiences and brought some really neat keepsakes for show and tell afterwards! Highlights were having students learn their names in Chinese and being introduced to Taiwanese food!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cook Arts Center Rock Bands Rock the Roller Derby! 

That's right. Cook Arts Center rock n' roll bands rocked the house at Rivertown Sports on Saturday, February 15th when they entertained the crowd during the halftime show of a Grand Rapids Rollerderby event. You may be thinking "Rock band? Cook Arts Center? HUH?!" That's okay. We'll catch you up. This summer the Cook Arts Center was the host of Grand Rapid's very first Girls Rock! camp. Girls Rock! is a summer camp designed to instill in adolescent girls self-confidence, team work abilities, and the desire to see something through to completion. Camp participants choose a "rock band" instrument that they would like to learn (guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums) and learn to play that instrument through intensive instructor lessons, as well as writing songs, playing music and learning about what it takes to be in a band. At the end of two weeks, girls perform a rock concert for their family and friends - ours at Wealthy Street Theater this past summer was AWESOME and the girls did a fantastic job! 

Many of the girls that participated in Girls Rock! camp are regular program participants at the Cook Arts Center and expressed a desire to keep practicing with their bands after the camp ended. This winter, Steffanie Rosalez was able to secure a way for them to continue playing with their bands while opening up the opportunity for other neighborhood kids to get involved. She created two winter program classes called "Cook Arts Center ROCKS!" These classes takes place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are comprised of two girl bands and two boy bands, each instructed by Girls Rock! volunteer Lena Nieboer. Both of our girl bands received the unique opportunity to perform the Girls Rock! camp theme song as well as other original pieces during the halftime show at the Grand Rapids Rollerderby this past Saturday. Band member Egypt K. even sang the National Anthem before the derby started! We're so proud of you, girls! ROCK ON!  

Michelle E - G. gettin' ready to rock! 

Performance time! :)
Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities administers the programs of the
Cook Arts Center and Cook Library Center.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cook Library Chess Tournament! 

Suspense, strategy, skill...what's not to appreciate about a good ole' fashioned chess tournament? Our students were certainly excited when our Library's chess tournament took place at the Cook Library Center on December 19th. With a whopping 20 student participants involved in the tournament, epic battles were staged so that both boys and girls were battling members of their respective genders simultaneously - intense! Though everyone played well and gave it their best shot, we did have some players that came out on top. Below are the tournament victors:       

Girls - 1st through 3rd place
1st place: Estelita
2nd place: Mary
3rd place: Maria

Boys - 1st through 3rd place
1st place: Cam
2nd place: Chase
3rd place: Emmanuel

Good Sportsmanship awards were also recognized for those students who regarded their competition with commendable respect and civility. Way to be, guys! 

Girls: Miriam, Yuri
Boys: Josue, Asa, Ricco 

We strongly believe at GAAH that playing chess encourages the development of critical thinking skills and sharp minds. We also strive to create safe learning environments for our students where they can feel safe and encouraged to love learning new things, whether it be playing chess or doing something else. If you or someone you know is interested in teaching our students how to play chess at the Cook Library Center, please contact Cook Library Scholars Program Manager Taylor Whitefield at We'd love to inform you on how you can contribute your skills, knowledge and time to neighborhood youth! 

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities administers the programs of the Cook Arts Center and Cook Library Center.