Meet our new creative writing teachers!

We are thrilled to introduce our new creative writing teachers for the 2018-19 school year, Michael Sikkema and Kait Polzin. Mike will lead our 3rd-5th grade students on Mondays and Tuesdays and Kait will spend Wednesday afternoons with our 1st and 2nd graders. Both teachers come to us with loads of experience and enthusiasm and we can’t wait for you to meet them! We asked each of them to answer a few questions to get us started.

Michael Sikkema

1) What most excites you about teaching at the CYC?
I am excited to meet young writers and hear all their amazing poems and stories and ideas.

2) What’s something silly that most people don’t know about you?
I have a deep appreciation for cartoon theme songs.

3) When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For a number of years, I wanted to be Spiderman.

4) What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

5) If you could have a super power, what would it be?
I would be able to heal mental and physical trauma simply by speaking.

6) What do you want most for CYC students?
I want them to have the time, support, and resources to write and make all the stuff that they want to write and make.

7) If you were the first person EVER to meet Captain H. Tanny, what would your first question be?
Is there room for one more in that balloon?


Kait Polzin

1) What most excites you about teaching at the CYC?
I am excited about sharing my passion for creative self exploration with young learners and participating in collaborative efforts to represent and beautify our community through the outcomes of that exploration.

2) What’s something silly that most people don’t know about you?
I once dressed up as Clifford the Big Red Dog for a local book fair and earned a free book!

3) When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist/ archaeologist/ rock star.

4) What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I read “the Twits” by Roald Dahl and thought it was such a hoot. I’ve been enjoying the whimsy of Roald Dahl perhaps more as a grown up than when I was a kid. His characters are ridiculous, his situations are unlikely and his reflections are quite poignant.

5) If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Okay – I know it’s such a typical answer, but I always wished I could be invisible so I could spy on my brothers and stay up late.

6) What do you want most for CYC students?
I want my CYC students to feel unlimited in how they use words and free to explore the possibilities of language as a means for self-expression.

7) If you were the first person EVER to meet Captain H. Tanny, what would your first question be?
Wanna dance?

Seeking Elementary Writing Teachers for 2018-19 School Year!

Open Position 1: 1st & 2nd Grade Creative Writing Teacher
PositionType: Contract teacher, hourly
Compensation: $24/hour
Weekly Hours: Up to 5 between August 17 and May 16 (up to 4 during session break)

Open Position 2: 3rd-5th Grade Creative Writing Teacher
PositionType: Contract teacher, hourly
Compensation: $24/hour
Weekly Hours: Up to 10 between August 17 and May 16 (up to 4 during session break)

The Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC) seeks one contract teacher to lead creative writing programming for twelve 1st & 2nd grade students once per week, and a second contract teacher to lead creative writing programming twice per week for two unique groups of twelve 3rd-5th grade students. Teachers will work with CYC staff and volunteers to foster a safe and supportive community. The organization is especially interested in hiring teachers reflective of its diverse body of students.

Requirements: Minimum Bachelor’s Degree, experience teaching youth, relevant experience with diverse populations, strong interest in and experience with creative writing.

Responsibilities include:

  • Establishing and maintaining meaningful and constructive relationships with students
  • Writing, preparing, and teaching weekly creative writing mini-lessons and engaging writing activities, following overarching program year themes and spanning various genres, with support of CYC curriculum and library
  • Picking students up on foot at MLK and walking back to the CYC for programming
  • Providing engaging, supportive written feedback on student writing and guiding students to select and polish written work for publication
  • Working with collaborating artists in a cross-genre project
  • Overseeing and providing individual support to student-volunteer pairs during Book Club
  • Addressing harm/conflict as it arises with students and helping students resolve it
  • Maintaining accurate attendance records and a tidy classroom space
  • Maintaining clear and open communication with parents, program manager, and volunteers

Successful candidates will possess:

  • a desire to empower youth through consistent, compassionate leadership
  • superb classroom management skills
  • a sense of silliness and adventure
  • the capacity to support youth in finding and developing their own voices
  • a passion for diversity, inclusion, and working with the community
  • a love of writing, reading, and language and the ability to share this enthusiasm with students
  • a positive, flexible attitude and a willingness to learn and grow

Programming adheres to GRPS holidays and school closings and runs as follows:

Start Date August 17
Paperwork, trainings, planning time
Session 1: The Book of Explosions September 17 – March 14
3rd-5th: Monday & Tuesday, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
1st-2nd: Wednesday, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Session 2: Creative Collaborations April 8 – May 16
3rd-5th: Monday & Tuesday, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
1st-2nd: Wednesday, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Year End Additional Hours May 22 – Book Launch Dress Rehearsal
May 29 – Book Launch

Required Trainings (by the beginning of Session 1): CPR (contractor covers cost), Mandated Reporter (contractor covers cost), Restorative Practices (CYC provides training)

To Apply: Email cover letter, resume, and contact information for two references to Kristin Brace, Executive Director, at by June 8, 2018. Interviews will be scheduled for late June through mid July 2018.

“My differences have caused trouble in my life, but…”

The CYC is immensely proud of 6th grader Nora Standish, whose essay ‘Weirdly wonderfulness: Life with the “Geek Disorder”‘ was chosen as a feature for Rapid Growth Media. This must-read essay highlights the power of difference instead of seeing what sets us apart as purely detrimental. Or, as Nora so eloquently puts it “My differences have caused trouble in my life, but they have also made me a work of art.” The beauty in this being, of course, that Nora’s differences are part of what make her such an amazing and empathetic author. Through the bravery to share her unique perspective, both in this essay and in her other writing, Nora broadens her specific experience into an accessible and relatable narrative. In other words, Nora’s writing, like so much of CYC students’ work, empowers those who read it.

Nora participates in our weekly middle school programming, where she just helped to write and act in the first-ever CYC short film, Unspoken. The movie was created through a consensus process. This meant that Nora and her fellow middle schoolers had to agree every step of the way. And this short film is just one of the many ways these students are encouraged to pursue their voices and stories.

The CYC aims to be a place where everyone sees their differences as powerful and beautiful. We hope that through amplifying student voices from a young age, the students will learn that what they have to say matters and matters deeply. And we love to see other places in the community helping students to see this as well. Nora’s essay is part of a series of stories focused on the programs and people positively impacting the lives of Michigan kids. Read more of this series here.

Join the team at the CYC

Greetings fellow writing enthusiasts! Calling all creative minds and mindful creatives! The Creative Youth Center is excited to announce not one, but two calls for applications. We are currently looking for a new CYC Writing Intern for the 2018-2019 school year, as well as a new CYC Board Member. Both are incredible opportunities to engage with the mission of the CYC and to support community arts initiatives for empowering young people. As the current CYC Intern, I am sad to have to post a call for applications but only because this internship rocks!


The mission of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC) is to prepare kids for life’s adventures by supporting their writing and amplifying their voices. The CYC is located at 413 Eastern Avenue in the Baxter neighborhood. It runs several after-school creative writing and reading programs for students aged 6-18. All CYC students become published authors.


Internship Information

  • 2018-2019 internship working with CYC staff members to support its mission
  • Geared toward English and Writing majors with strong writing and critical thinking skills
  • 10 hours per week, unpaid: minimum 5 hours on-site, possibility of up to 5 hours off-site
  • Supervisor: Brianne Carpenter, CYC Program Manager

Internship Time Frame

  • Position open until filled. Final deadline for applications: July 16, 2018
  • Start Date: TBD, second week of August 2018
  • End Date: TBD, May 2019

Internship Requirements

  • High level of professionalism
  • Excellent written communication across diverse media
  • Excellent oral communication skills
  • Attention to detail and design
  • Familiarity with Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress
  • Cultural competency
  • Sincere interest in the organization and its mission
  • Willingness to learn about the CYC and the greater context of its work
  • Self-motivation with ability to work independently within organizational culture

Possible Internship Projects

  • Edit, curate, and contribute to the CYC blog
  • Serve as Editorial Assistant for the CYC’s annual anthology, The Book of Explosions
  • Administer weekly social media posts on Facebook and Twitter
  • Write monthly CYC newsletter
  • Write and publish articles about the CYC and CYC events for media outlets
  • Manage registration materials and attendance data
  • Other opportunities as they arise

Interested students should send a resumé, cover letter, names of two references, and available weekday hours to Brianne Carpenter at Qualified applicants will be invited to the CYC for an in-person interview to discuss the position, student goals and schedule, and to make certain the internship would be a good fit for everyone.


Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC) Open Board Member Position

Mission: The Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC) prepares kids for life’s adventures by supporting their writing and amplifying their voices.

About the CYC: The CYC provides a safe, imaginative space for children aged 6-18 to participate in after school creative writing programming. Students grow in confidence, learn creative writing skills, and become published authors in a supportive community of peers and adults. Located at the crossroads of Wealthy and Eastern, the CYC’s programs are open to students attending Grand Rapids Public Schools or living in Grand Rapids, with a special focus on southeast neighborhoods. Programs are offered at no cost to families.

The CYC Board of Directors seeks a member that is passionate about the organization’s mission, equity and inclusion, and quality, accessible after school youth programming. The ideal candidate will have fundraising experience and a broad network to share with the organization.

If interested, please contact Shawnte Williams and Lindsay McHolme and share your resume.  


Shawnte Williams                                                                                       Lindsay McHolme

Vice President, Board of Directors                                                     President, CYC Board of Directors                                           

Celebrating our Story Slam’s Success

Our second ever story slam event took place last week and it was a wild success. Tears of all kinds were shed and laughs were shared among the more than two hundred of you who came out. There were ten storytellers who captivated our hearts and minds with their wit, warmth, and bravery. Highlights include the lessons that life teaches us over and over, some bad decisions, a couple of first-time performers, and so much applause. What a night!

Of course, we could not have done it without help from our sponsors at Meijer, Mark & Jennifer Ellis, BDO, Well Design Studio, Lambert, Edwards & Associates, and the Grand Rapids Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Also, huge thanks to Sarah Jean Anderson for her hilarious hosting, to Chris Sain Jr., John Gonzalez, and Amy Sherman for being judges. Other contributors included the Festival of Faith & Writing, Creston Brewery, Urban Massage, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse, Grand Rapids Cuban Salsa, and Books & Mortar, who all donated prizes. And, as always, thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers! A resounding round of applause to everyone who helped make the night the success that it was.

Enjoy a few photos from the night, either as means to reminisce or to see exactly what you missed out on! Don’t worry, the CYC is sure to be hosting more story slams and community events in the future!

Life is full of opportunities for sweet stories

At the CYC, we believe that there is never a bad time to appreciate a friend or loved one. Especially if you are appreciating someone through writing. So this Valentine’s Day, consider writing a letter to someone, or something, you hold dear. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, some of our students have written their own “love letters,” like this one addressed to cheesecake by Daveya, a second grader. Feel free to borrow the form to write a letter to someone dear to you in your life! Or, take it as inspiration to bake a cheesecake and share a few slices with your friends. Life is full of opportunities to be sweet, so take some! 


Dear Cheesecake by Daveya:

Dear Cheesecake,

When I bake you in the oven, I just want to eat you. You taste like cotton candy. You look so tasty with cherries and strawberries on top. Yummy in my tummy, you make me so happy. You’re my best dessert ever in my whole entire life. You’re my best friend for ever and ever. You smell like vanilla ice cream.




Introducing Audrey, a new Creative Writing teacher!

Here at the CYC, students and their stories come first. We want to empower children in the Grand Rapids community to speak their truths and to explore their own creativity. And we couldn’t do any of it without incredible leaders like Audrey Quinn. Audrey has been volunteering with the CYC since last January and has loved every minute of it. Now she is excited to be stepping into a new role, as the creative writing instructor on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the third through fifth graders.

Audrey is embracing the adventure and starting off by leading her students in a project on folklore. She says of the project that she “wants students to have something really fun to be working on when they’re not editing their pieces for the Book of Explosions.” And “with folklore and fairy tales this semester, I want to work with the kids on developing settings and characters. I think the freedom of these forms will keep that fun. Among other things, we’re going to make guidebooks to fairy tale worlds, talk about oral traditions, the rules and limits of magic in stories, magical realism, and understanding villains.”

It’s wonderfully unique projects like this that vitalize the CYC, as Audrey knows. She shared that one of her favorite CYC memories was last spring, when first and second graders were able to create their own ice cream flavors. She said that she “loved seeing the kids design their own flavors out of all the toppings and ice creams that Furniture City Creamery brought to the CYC.” One student created a flavor named “Waltermelon,” inspired by his own name. Audrey said Walter still brings this up during programming.

Students at Furniture City Creamery, enjoying “Waltermelon” ice cream.

Audrey is particularly excited to be working closer with the kids and the CYC on producing this year’s Book of Explosions. She said that attending the Book Launch last year was one of her greatest CYC moments, as “it’s amazing to watch the students get up on stage and see everything else melt away– seeing kids who started off nervous being able to flourish onstage is one the coolest experiences.” She added that the Book Launch experience is a time when the students “get to be proud of themselves and embraced by their community.”

If Audrey could have one superpower she says it would be flight, or at least that’s her “go-to” answer, as she thinks the “freedom to go anywhere whenever I want to would be amazing.” Of course, Audrey knows that the closet thing to this superpower is the power of reading and writing, which is why the CYC students are so lucky to have her as a creative writing teacher.

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading.”

Three times a week, before the creative writing portion of that day’s programming begins, four to six students come to the Creative Youth Center for Book Club. Book Club students meet one-on-one with an adult reading tutor and read from 3:30 to 4:15 before participating in that day’s creative writing programming. Each student is paired with their tutor and given time to read  and experience literature. This enables students to learn literacy skills, and become passionate about reading, while also discovering what they like and don’t like. Students are empowered to select which book they want to read, which allows them to be more engaged. By being encouraged to read a book of their choosing, and receiving guidance when necessary, students ultimately begin to locate their own thoughts and opinions on writing in general. They are then more equipped to find themselves and their own stories once they have been exposed to the impactful stories of others. As the age groups vary from first and second graders, to third through fifth graders, there is a range of accessible and quality reading to choose from. Some of that material is pictured here.

Book Club and its mission might remind one of the following quote: Children’s author Katherine Paterson, creator of Bridge to Terabithia and other books, said “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations– something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” The CYC’s Book Club embodies this quote, as it is a program that not only helps children to enjoy good books, but also helps them makes sense of the world around them and the people they love. In this way, students’ voices are celebrated at the CYC, not just as students create their own writing, but also as they respond to the writing of others.


Finding Friendship in Unusual Places

There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a good friend. Someone you can always count on, even when times are rough. At the Creative Youth Center, friendships often grow and bloom because of students’ abilities to share themselves and share their writing. The first and second grade students have been reading and writing about friendship this year, and they have written some incredible stories. Here is part of second grader Elle’s ongoing chronicle of adventures:

Chapter one- One day Chimp wrote a letter to Dino. It said that Chimp was on vacation for a week. Then Dino got another letter. It said I’m lonely. Then Dino wrote a letter to Chimp. It said we will meet for dinner at a pizza place. And they did. Then Chimp said would you like to stay with me. Dino said yes. The end.

Chapter two- When Dino got to Chimp’s house they got their PJ’s on, brushed their teeth and got in bed and then Dino said can you read me a story. Chimp said yes. They read about pirates and went to bed.

Elle is pictured with her Book Club volunteer reading buddy, Vera. Stay tuned for more installments of Dino and Chimp’s adventures!



“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.