Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Critical Thinking at the Cook Library Center

Through a variety of tried and true methods such as market research and psychographics, media outlets deliberately target their advertising to certain audiences. Although most adults are able to consume media with this in mind, it is typically a far different story for youth. In fact, child psychologist James McNeal has established that children are by far the most impressionable marketable age due to their inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

That is why one Thursday a month GAAH welcomes Jeff Smith, founder of Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), to speak to teens in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood about the important distinction between reality and what is portrayed in the wide array of media that is consumed on a daily basis.

Covering topics ranging from racism to brand loyalty to beauty standards, these workshops challenge the viewpoints of the teens who choose to attend. The 90-minute sessions are packed with information and live-viewing sessions of product placement, advertisement critiques, and more. And although the concepts are new to the students, this is an exciting topic to them and they have been catching on quickly, learning how to consume media with a more critical eye.

During one workshop, after discussing synergistic product placement within Universal Studios’ ET, the class proceeded to view similar instances in The Grinch, Men in Black, Transformers, and the Hunger Games. They examined placements from products such as Phillip Morris, Hostess, Chevy, Target, Budweiser, Beats by Dre, and more. There were discussions of physical placement of the ads on billboards and blimps, on sports fields, at certain heights in grocery stores, on buildings, and even on gas pumps. Several students even came up with examples of their own.  

At the December workshop Jeff recorded some of the teens summarizing what they had learned so far. He says that next semester they will be focusing on creating their own media rather than analyzing the media that already exists. All of the students in attendance said they are planning to return.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mimi, Volunteer at the Cook Library Center, Finds Refuge There

It’s not every day that you meet a college student quite like Mimi (aka Michelle). According to her mother, Mimi is a “book eater.” Although Mimi was a very petite child who had to ride in the baby carriage until she was almost two years old, she began talking before anyone else her age. Her mother called her a “bright child” and said that she was forming full sentences early in her development. At a young age, Mimi’s mother would have to take books away to get her to focus on other things. Even then “She would read the cereal box, the tags on the back of the sofa, and other things in the house. That's just her!" her mother explained, fondly laughing. Nowadays, even after spending a long day on homework, Mimi goes to take a break only to find herself diving into yet another book. Mimi insists that it’s “recreational reading.” Her favorite books are The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, all written by J. R. R. Tolkien. In fact, when she first received the trilogy, she read it in less than 48 hours. 

Although she was born in Evergreen, Illinois, Mimi has lived all over the United States due to her mother’s occupation in campground management. In fact, they have seen every state in the United States twice and visited both oceans within the course of a year. Growing up, Mimi attended various schools and also attempted homeschooling throughout her K-12 education. “A lot of kids didn't like me in high school,” Mimi said. She feels that her good grades were to blame. She and her best friend Ruth, who suffers from a terminal illness, “broke the curve on every single test, making it difficult for the rest of the class to do well.”

Following the trend of her earlier education, Mimi was a student at several higher education institutions including Aquinas College and Northwest Michigan College. Mimi now finds herself studying at Grand Valley State University. This self-proclaimed “nerd” is majoring in English Language and Literature and minoring in East Asian Studies with an emphasis on Japan. She would eventually like to translate books and websites from Japanese to English and vice versa but plans to get her career started as an assistant English teacher in Japan. In fact, while studying there she interned at Rice Ball Daycare where she spent two days a week reading, talking, and playing with Japanese elementary kids. This experience created a path toward exceptional volunteerism at the Cook Library Center, where Mimi brings the same joy and wisdom to the young students in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood.

Mimi got into habit of volunteering very early, starting at a local library in Manelona, Michigan, in 7th grade. She later became involved with the National Honor Society in high school, which included volunteer hours as the service component of the program. At Aquinas College she undertook another project in order to continue receiving the Monsignor Bukowski scholarship. She traveled to Lasana, Mississippi, where she relieved people from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2008. “I helped people who got ignored,” she said, “There was one elderly couple whose shed fell off its foundation, and no one helped them to put it back up. So we pushed the shed back up and set things right.” Mimi later received a certificate for her community service.

Although her current educational experience at GVSU is excellent, Mimi faces a few barriers. Mimi’s mother, who suffers from an inoperable brain stem malformation, requires countless visits to the hospital. Because Mimi’s biological father passed away from diabetes when she was young, she finds her mother frequently under her care. In addition to this difficulty at home, Mimi also began to struggle with interpersonal issues with her roommates. As a result, Mimi has decided to find other ways to spend her time outside of class.

Fortunately she found the Cook Library Center, where her opportunity to volunteer with the children provides a healthy escape. ”The Library Center has reminded me how much I love going out and spending time with people,” she explained, smiling. "It's nice to stop hurting for a moment and enjoy life with the kids. It helps me let everything go for a while … knowing that I’m making life better for them.” She said, “Coming from an all-white neighborhood with all-white kids, there was no program like this where I could be with other people like me.” Excluded from social life in most of the places where she lived, Mimi says that she believes that the Cook Library Center gives the kids an opportunity to make friends with one other. “They are not alone here,” she said. “If I had something like this, I think about how much further I could have gone."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Meet Noemi G., Future Politician

Noemi G. is a Grandville Avenue teenager with a bright and promising future. This 16-year-old high school junior loves politics and photography and dreams of being governor one day. She participates in Calling All Colors, GAAH’s Teen Leaders in the Arts program, and was even interviewed for The Rapidian’s Elevating Voices project. When reflecting upon her passion for politics, she said that she found it “interesting how one single opinion can change a law or create something.” She said that when it comes to making changes, she would start with the education system in Grand Rapids because we could do a lot better. “No one is stepping up to that,” she said.

Noemi thinks the Cook Arts Center provides students with a safe space where ”they can be whatever they want to be without having to fit into the boxes that we call the education system.” Her recognition of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center’s work to create a place for Grandville Avenue youth is fitting in light of the recent development in the organization’s Teen Leaders in the Arts program.

After years of developing creative, safe, enriching programs for youth in Grandville Avenue neighborhood, the staff and leadership team at GAAH began to notice a lack of retention after a certain age. This issue of keeping teenagers interested was addressed by research conducted by Program Director Steffanie Rosalez. Steffanie visited The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, a pioneer in innovative youth programming, where she learned that the teen retention rates increase significantly if they are part of the decision-making process. She discovered that the key to retaining youth beyond elementary school is to simply ask them what they want to do and then make it possible for them do it.

The idea of autonomy became a crucial principle behind the development of this program. The program the teens helped to create included choosing an artistic discipline in which to receive private instruction, working at GAAH’s facilities to gain valuable work experience and earn real paychecks, creating and presenting materials about key neighborhood issues, planning and participating in engaging field trips to cultural institutions, and more.

Noemi’s particular choice for the arts component of the program was, of course, photography. After taking an entire summer of private lessons from a professional photographer from Bultman Studios, she is eager to utilize these skills to do a campaign of images to help promote important meetings with GR Forward in the neighborhood.

(More Story Matters pieces featuring neighborhood youth and their families can be found on The Rapidian’s website or on GAAH’s YouTube.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Cook Library Center: A Place for All

Edgar, a fifth grader at Burton Elementary School, is one of the 21 students at the Cook Library Center who can proudly call themselves Cook Library Achievers. As a student who visits the library daily, Edgar enjoys art and 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 students who are not enrolled in the Cook Library Scholars program to receive the attention, tutoring, mentorship and guidance they need. 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 spelling or math games.

Sue Garza, Director of the Cook Library Center, said that the Achievers are treated with exceptional care. The program allows youth who cannot be a part of the Scholars program due to capacity limitations or scheduling conflicts to still benefit from the enriching programs that are offered at the Cook Library Center on a daily basis. Being committed to providing engaging after-school 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.”  

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. 

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.  

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.”

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.

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 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. 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 Circle Theatre, 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

A lively auction bursting with items from local businesses and artists, a delectable Cuban feast prepared by Tommy Fitzgerald, support from generous donors, a successful partnership with Kendall College of Art and Design, a charming dance performance and Latin music: these are only some of the things that made up Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH’s) 13th annual Día del Sol on June 19. The event was not only inspiring, but raised $48,000 to support the programs of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center

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 our vibrant community and to thank those who give their treasure and talent to GAAH.

With the help of this tremendous group of individuals and businesses, GAAH can continue to deeply impact the lives of many Grandville Avenue neighborhood residents every day. 

Juan Diego and Estelita showing off their quilt to Eva Aguirre Cooper

Some special friends 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 niece, 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).

Between Tuesday, June 4 and Monday, June 9, both facilities of GAAH had the opportunity to meet a myriad of elementary school students. These children poured into our facilities with enthusiastic energy to create, explore, and dance. 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

May 29 was a significant and memorable day in Roosevelt Park for our Cook Library Scholars. 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.