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 has attained two new staff members to kick off to 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 Bunchanan 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 near or 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 meet and 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. Sujey, who also has proven experience with neighborhood youth, most recently worked with the Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth Steil Center. Her experience with children was at the learning center where she helped with homework. Sujey also worked as an English tutor out of her home 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.”

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.

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.