“I Am Thankful” a poem by Cameron, 4th grade

When many families sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table, there is a tradition of sharing something they are thankful for. It can be hard, however, to find the right words to express the unbound gratitude of the moment. That being said, this poem by a CYC student, 4th grader, Cameron, captures the overflowing gratitude that many of us experience during the holiday season. More than that, Cameron finds a way to say “thanks” for all of the little things that we so often forget to be thankful for. Like “looking fancy,” cooking enchiladas with mom, and, of course, pumpkin pie. Here is Cameron’s poem:

I am thankful for life. I am thankful for coming to the CYC. I’m thankful for family. I am thankful for my personality and curiosity and knowledge. I am thankful for shelter and living in a happy place. I am thankful for having a Wii U game and a bunch of books at my house to read, because I like reading. I’m thankful that the CYC has a fairy house and that we get to write about it. I’m thankful for choose your own adventure stories. I’m thankful for a pair of shoes and looking fancy.

I am thankful for air, and for my sister because she gives me ideas. She gave me ideas for making her a bouncy house, and anytime she’s sad we make her happy. I’m thankful for my grandpa and the furniture he made me and the picture he brought me that made me feel my spirit. He made chairs and tables and some wood so I can build stuff. One time he made one into a hockey stick so I can play hockey in the street. I’m thankful for Unsolved Mysteries because I love that show on TV.

I’m thankful for my dad because, every time I do something wrong, he talks to me about it and tells me very important stuff that I need to know for life.

I’m thankful for my mom and she helps me cook. Last night I helped her cook enchiladas.

I’m thankful I’m going to MLK. We have our own soccer field. At my old school, me and my cousin and my friends used to ride the bus there and talk about Pokemon and stuff. When he comes over sometimes he helps me do my homework. He’s my old friend. He’s thirteen. But sometimes we feel like we’re brothers. My favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie. My grandma always comes over for Thanksgiving. We’re making sweet potatoes. I don’t know how to make them. Some people just say you put love in them.

The power of one: a volunteer interview

The Creative Youth Center and all of its magical programming could not happen without the kooky and awesome volunteers who show up every week. Ruth Posthumus is a former middle school principal, a current supervisor for student teachers at Calvin College and a volunteer with the CYC middle school students. When Ruth walks into the CYC on Thursday afternoons, there is an exuberant chorus of “Miss. Ruth!” And “Hello!” The presence Ruth brings to the CYC is immense in its reach and effect, as students truly react warmly to the love and respect Ruth naturally provides. Even when the volunteers are just there for an hour and a half once a week, it really strikes a chord with these students.

Annie: I was going to ask you about the differences between volunteering and your time in a principal role, how do you feel these two positions are related or not related to one another? Is it exciting to be able to interact with a smaller number of kids on a more person-to-person level?

Ruth: Yes! It’s so exciting. In a middle school, you have the close interactions with some kids, but it’s just more the kids that have the difficulties. I love how small the CYC is. It feels so great to go from seven hundred students to the twelve students at the CYC. It’s so nice and calm. There are no hallways! I mean I really loved my job as a middle school principal, but this is a different scope. Still, at the end of the day, kids are kids, you know? And in both places, the people you’re working with matter so much. At the CYC, everyone is a total rock star. Part of what makes it so great is that I know middle school kids need to write. They need to write. And how Brianne engages them is so cool.

The prompts we do are really unique!

They’re incredible. I mean, I’m writing and I’m not a writer. I’m sitting there with my pen flying across the page (makes intense and fast scribbling gesture in the air).

I feel like everyone’s a writer at the CYC though.

Oh yeah! Especially with the structure we have this year. Sharing both at the beginning and the end is a great way to help the kids see their growth, even just within one Thursday. I think it’s helpful for the kids to see the volunteers and the grownups struggle to create something during programming too.

What is your favorite part of volunteering? Is there a part of being at the CYC that you really look forward to, like the creative writing portion or otherwise?

All of it. It’s just so exciting. Well, as first I was intimidated by the experienced poets and their exposure to spoken word, etcetera. But now I’m not intimidated at all because it’s so safe. You can come to the creative writing here with no experience and it’s still great. It’s been such new learning.

If you could take any book on a desert island what book would you take?

Well that’s a hard one. It’d be between three. A Wrinkle in Time, Anna Karenina, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. That’s hard though. I wouldn’t want to be bored.

What do you think the most important part of the CYC is?

I think the relationships. I really believe that with every individual it only takes “one.” I believe in this “power of one.” Some kids have so much going for them but all they really need is just one person. They need one person who truly connects with them and helps them. I would start every school year at our staff meeting by reminding all of the teachers of this. There are so many people who are running for office or speaking about who and what inspired them growing up. They’ll say, “it all goes back to this one teacher or mentor.” It happens all the time. Sometimes students come in and it’s clear that they’ve had a really rough day. Other weeks they are a completely different person. You have no idea what the differences will be on a week to week basis but you have to be there for them. I think kids are amazing and they’re so resilient.

That’s such a huge part of the CYC as well, that when they get to programming they’ve already had a full day of school and all that comes with it. So they end bringing that all in the door with them. 

They just want to be who they are. They don’t want us to tell them who to be or how to think. They just want to be who they are and show us who they are. The thing is, who they are is so cool! The writing they do here really allows them to be themselves.

(pictured: Ruth reading with a student at the spoken word show last year)

Stories People Want to Know: Interviewing Two Middle School Authors

There’s always a lot to be excited about at the CYC. This year, the CYC creative writing students have even more to look forward to: a whole new program structure. Also, there are new snacks. Granola bar crumbs aside though, this year’s program model is a great way for students to share writing and feel connected to peers. Two students in the middle school program, Tayonna and Zoe, shared some thoughts about their time at the CYC. Both girls have been coming for a few years now so they had a lot to say. Amidst the frenzy of splitting new organic pop tarts and deciding if the “cheddar ducks” were as good as “goldfish,” we sat down between some books. I broke into some questions and they broke into their juice boxes.

Annie: So, do you like what we do at the CYC?

Tayonna: Yes. Oh and we’ve been working on our poems at school. But it’s different than the CYC. These ones are more fun and more alive. At school someone wrote a poem about the rain and it was depressing. They just wanted to sit in the window and keep crying and crying and I don’t like that. That’s so depressing.

Do you write stuff like that? What sort of stuff do you want to write?

Tayonna: No, I never write that sort of sad stuff. I want to write about fun stuff. I want to write about the sun, the moon. About happy things, but, like, real happy things.

Zoe: At school we have to write essays but we don’t get to write poems. It’s still fun, but it’s not the same. I like the poems here. At school there are more rules and we have to write these paragraphs. If you mess up a word, like if you spell a random word wrong, then they take off five points and it’s a little harsh. But I want to write about random stuff.

Tayonna: Yeah. Like I have this one story. I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s just about random stuff. I’ll bring it in next week.

Zoe: Sometimes people tell you stories that freak you out. Stuff you don’t need to hear. At the CYC though we tell stories people want to know.

What’s been an exciting thing you’d been able to do at the CYC?

Tayonna: Everything! Okay but there was that one thing, last year. Screen printing! I never knew you could do that, I thought you could only do that on shirts and stuff, not paper. I hadn’t thought about adding the pictures to my writing before either. I’d seen pictures in my mind but I’d never thought about putting them down with the words so that people could see.

What about you Zoe, what’s something exciting you’ve been able to do at the CYC?

Zoe: It’s just been really fun. A lot of it has been really fun. Meeting new people maybe. That’s cool.

Yeah! I think there’s something really cool about meeting new people here. And then, not only do you meet new people, but you have to share your stories with them. It can be cool, but also scary.

(Tayonna shook her head furiously at this suggestion).

Zoe: No. Not here. It’s only scary when you go up.

Tayonna: Yeah! Like last summer, when we went to the Wealthy Theatre for the book release! My stomach was up and down and all over.

Zoe: Yeah, I didn’t think anyone would like my story. I didn’t want to go but my mom made me do it. She said she wanted people to see and she wanted to make a video about it and then she showed it to my family which was cool. They liked it.

Tayonna: My mom had to miss it. So I had to tell her everything that happened. And I was out of breath and I was sleepy and I’d eaten a lot of ice cream so I had a stomach ache.

Zoe: Yeah! I remember getting sick. There was so much ice cream. I put too much chocolate on mine.

Annie: Is there such a thing as too much chocolate?

Perhaps all conversations about writing lead to chocolate. Regardless, these two writers are creating great work every week at the CYC. To see the screen prints Tayonna is so enthusiastic about, head down to Madcap Coffee before November 18th. Stay posted for more cool projects and middle school-sized pieces of wisdom. Oh, and grab a good snack before your next writing project.