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.

Capturing Shadows & Lights: West MI Artists Inspired by the CYC

Have you heard about our latest Grand Rapids art exhibit and collaboration? Starting tomorrow, October 16, through November 18, the Creative Youth Center will have an exhibit featured at Madcap Coffee’s downtown location. We are proud to feature work by West Michigan artists in response to the latest CYC Book of Explosions. Professional artists have made work reacting to student writing, and the collection is bound to be “wow!”-worthy.

A week from today, on Sunday, October 22 from 1-3 pm, there will also be a  reception. Artists will be there, as well as some light bites, and, of course, the amazing artwork. Participating artists include: Sarah Jean Anderson, Brett Colley, Alynn Guerra, Erin Vaughn Laurel, Rachel McKay, Michael Schaeffer, Elizabeth A. Trembley, Andy Budnick, Carolyn Niewiek, Julie Ridl, Meridith Ridl, and Lisa Walcott.

Not only will the beautiful art be on display for over a month, but the pieces will be for sale on a first come, first served basis. All the proceeds will be going towards CYC programming, however Madcap will be able to accept cash and check ONLY. The work is all incredible, so get out of the October rain for a minute to grab a latte and maybe take home some art!

For details check out our Facebook event page.

The Characters that Lived!

The CYC is just tickled pink about our upcoming event on October 26. The Characters that Lived is an amazing opportunity for our students to create characters and see their writing brought to life by professional improv actors. It’s Grand Rapids’ only all ages improv show and will be a night to remember. The event has been a huge success for two years now and promises to be a legendary night of laughter and love yet again. The proof is in the pudding, as they say!

And now, for a sneak-peek-exclusive of some of the zany characters that will be flying across the stage in just a few weeks! You’ll be enchanted by 3rd grader Chloe’s character, Malia Love Alanna, a Dominican “fun girl to play with,” and a gymnastics teacher who likes to say “Chicka chicka boom boom!” in Spanish. Malia will be gracing the stage for one night only, along with Biggy. Biggy is the creation of Andrew, a fourth grader, and Biggy has a pet dog named Grizzles. Biggy likes to say “Holy beans!” and wants to be a star someday. Meet these cool characters and more at our show!

Tickets for the event are currently on sale and will be $12 if purchased before the night of. All proceeds go to benefit CYC programming and help us to continue providing our wacky writers with outlets for their amazing ideas. This is an absolutely unmissable opportunity and we want you to be there. So grab an old friend or a new one, and get your tickets while you can!

Meet Captain Annie!

Ahoy mateys! I am sending bat signals, carrier pigeons near and far,
to reach even Neverland’s shining star,
and deliver these greetings from our CYC:
so, hello! I’m the intern! My name is Annie.

The CYC discovered me, more than the other way around,
when I kept finding posters and stories all about town.
This past year I volunteered with our middle school group,
whose laughter taught me that life is always a hoot.
Seeing poems and prose flow from their fingers,
I remembered the days when my own voice rang unhindered.

As a kid I would never, not ever, stop flipping the pages,
even after mom’s calls of “lights out!” were outrageous.
Reading taught me to live, and how to persist,
since many a novel meant trouble for a protagonist.
I saw firsthand in Goose Girl, House on Mango Street,
that the world I lived in was anything but neat.
It took more than a spoonful of sugar and pluck
to stick up for yourself and the ones that you love.

These days, when I’m not interning or being inspired here,
I am studying at GVSU as an English and Writing Major.
I thrive on adventures, hence my Spanish minor pursuits,
for I’d love to leave the mitten and try on my traveling boots.

The past two summers I farmed the Blue Ridge Mountains,
this year at a summer camp, where the kids were joyous fountains.
I know my most thrilling feats are always shared,
for together we can do things we never dared.
Like this June, when me and a gaggle of campers,
made pizza so delicious the leftovers scampered.
As every ingredient came from our garden,
even the cheese was a home-milked bargain!
I hope to move to North Carolina, to this magical land,
after I graduate this Spring with my diploma in hand.

Now I’ll leave you all be with a quote that inspires,
even when my world has moments of haywire,
from Andrea Gibson, a spoken word poet,
whose words have saved me in many a moment:

“I said to the sun, ‘Tell me about the big bang.’
The sun said, ‘it hurts to become.”

As far as I see it, this is Gibson’s description
of how it feels to have your heart expand its mission.
This is maybe the scariest way to grow,
but also the best, as the CYC knows.

Captain H. Tanny Vs. Boogie the Ghost Pirate

Ahoy, me mateys!

Yer cap’n apologizes for leavin’ ye hangin’, so to speak. Last she wrote, she was tellin’ ye about bringin’ the injured T. Rex to the beach so she could treat his burned foot on the boat. But Boogie the Ghost Pirate’s ship drifted towards shore, blocking the way! And Dumple the One-Eyed Pirate passed out in the sand. So things were lookin’ grim for old Captain H. Tanny.

Also, yer cap’n has never before seen the likes of Boogie the Ghost Pirate in the flesh (or spirit). So this business was extra scary for yer cap’n. But nobody will get in the way of helpin’ an injured person (or T. Rex), or my name isn’t Captain H. Tanny!

So yer cap’n stood as tall as she could and hollered, “Argh! Boogie! Ye best be leavin’ us alone now, so we can get on our way!”

The spooky ship, with tattered sails rippling in the wind and skulls decorating the bow, slid into the shore. A gang plank fell out and landed onto the sand with a thunk. Yer cap’n squinted, but couldn’t see inside the dark, shadowy ship.

“Boogie is always out to get me,” yer cap’n explained to the T. Rex. The dinosaur squeezed yer cap’n’s hand for support.

After what felt like a long time, a fog crept out of the ship’s doorway and a figure followed. Boogie the Ghost Pirate was all bones and fog, and his head was a ghoulish skull with a pirate’s hat atop. The bony skeleton of a parrot sat on his shoulders, flapping wings that had only a few ancient feathers still stuck to them.

There was no tellin’ what Boogie would do when he got close, but yer cap’n is not proud to admit, young adventurers, that she quaked in her boots.

“I’m warnin’ ye, Boogie!” yer cap’n said. “Don’t come any closer, or else!” She held on tight to the Book of Explosions, since that’s what Boogie had come to get. It was the most precious treasure a pirate could own, and yer cap’n had worked so hard to get it.

The T. Rex saw the fear in yer cap’n, and stood up big and tall, glaring at the Ghost Pirate. Dumple started to wake up again, and yer cap’n helped him up to his foot and peg leg. “Dumple, this is no time to mess around! Boogie is coming at us, quick!”

Dumple looked up to see the Ghost Pirate drifting closer and closer over the sand, since ghosts don’t need to walk. He then looked over at the T. Rex, who looked so big and frightening. The T. Rex stood taller than ever to let out the loudest, fiercest roar any living person had ever heard. Dumple immediately collapsed back to the sand, unconscious again.

Even though that was the loudest sound a living person ever heard, Boogie, a ghost, was unafraid. He kept drifting closer. The T. Rex whimpered like a frightened puppy during a thunderstorm.

And that’s when an idea came to ye cap’n, young adventurers. Since everything written in the Book of Explosions seemed to come to life, Captain Tanny decided to write somethin’ in the book herself. She took out her trusty pen, which she always carried, and quickly wrote, Boogie the Ghost Pirate couldn’t hurt Captain Tanny, Dumple, or the T. Rex. And something funny happened to the spooky pirate. He couldn’t drift any closer to ye cap’n or her friends! It looked like the ghost was trying to walk into an invisible wall.

The T. Rex smiled. “Yay!” ye cap’n said.

You can probably guess the rest, young adventurers. Boogie had no choice but to turn and go back into his ship and sail away, taking all the scary fog with him. The sun came out again. It was a beautiful day. Soon Dumple woke up, and together we all went aboard the ship and treated the T. Rex’s burn. The T. Rex didn’t want to go back to the woods after that. It seemed as though Dumple and ye cap’n had made themselves a new friend.

Captain H. Tanny

A Summer Poem

Poem Where You Pretend Like You’re at the Beach Reading It


I am a giraffe. I’m camouflaging with the tree, hiding from the enemies. I am a giraffe.

I am a chocolate cake, Oreos, Spanish, Mom and Dad, my sister,

spaghetti, balloons, flamingos, and playing tag with my little brother.

I am like my Grandma because everyone says we look the same.

She took care of me when my mom couldn’t.

My eyes look brown like my grandma and

the lines in our hands are the same.

I am doing Reading and Math. I am paying attention.

I always bring my book with me when I am done with all the things I have to do.

I take care of my parakeet. I am watching TV with my little brother because he’s sick.

I am like a lion. I eat a lot of meat and I run away.

I am sad because of my little brother.

I am a baby popping a bubble. My grandma said

she’s going to buy me something for my birthday.

I have brown eyes. I have shoes on. My hair is black

(my mom painted it blonde but it doesn’t show).

I look like a 3rd grader and a good student.


by Liba, 3rd grade

Collecting Shadows & Lights: Book Launch and Preview!

You’ve been waiting patiently, and now it’s finally here.

The beautiful Book of Explosions Six is in our hands! How do you get one? Come to our Book Launch on Wednesday, May 31 at 5:30 pm at Wealthy Theater. You can purchase a copy there, and listen to the adorable and talented writers share excerpts from the book! It’s free to attend, and it’s open to the public.

The books will also be available for sale on our website following the Book Launch. But that’s no excuse to miss the reading!

We wanted to share some of the book with you ahead of time. Some of the pieces in here are bursting with lyric description:

Alayna, 7th grade

The Pink Wall

In bed, nestled under a huge character-covered blanket, I stared at a pink wall. To be honest, all my walls were pink, but at the time this wall was different. This wall faced a window, often collecting shadows and lights from outside. Every night I would climb into bed and lay down, hoping that pink wall would disappear, hoping a figure or creature wouldn’t be cast on the wall. Each night I turned myself to the side just to sleep without a tree branch looking like a monster. Those times I looked at the wall, it made small things grow. A bird on a branch became a man walking on walls. A leaf became an insect or something that looked to have the ability to bite.

Others are inspiring:

Qyliyah, 8th grade

Black Women are Our Guardians

I am an art lovin’, music singin’,

Hip-hop dancin’, crazy girl.


I am joyful, full of passion,

and will always have an

open heart.


I am a child growing every day

walking home from school to home,

trying to survive, and being



I am my siblings’ guardian.

I will love and protect them.

I cherish them with all

my heart. We don’t get along

very well, but I love them and

I vow that I will protect

even in my darkest fears.

I am a black woman.

Still, others fill the pages with humor:

Arianna, 2nd grade


Once upon a time there lived Air. One day someone put him in a balloon. He felt nothing. He went to space. He got stuck in a black hole. Then, he got really scared and he fell back to earth. After that he rode away on a unicorn and it farted out rainbows. Finally, he went and he got a shot. He lived poppily ever after, and he popped and pooped.

Now you can’t wait for May 31, right?

See you there!

The Story of the Spoken Word & Music Album

The spoken word and music collaboration with Triumph Music Academy has attracted a lot of positive attention from our Grand Rapids community. From an interview with Mariano Avila from WGVU’s Mutually Inclusive to spotlight attention from Dustin Dwyer at Michigan Radio, the CYC looks back on the work of our students this year with pride. We wrote an article for The Rapidian detailing the background of the collaboration, as well as the award-winning success of several of the CYC student poems.

We will hold an album-release celebration with Triumph Music Academy on Monday, May 22 at 7 pm. All are welcome to join us in raising a glass at Brewery Vivant to celebrate an incredible year of programming!

CYC students tour Triumph Music Academy.

To preserve the story of our collaboration, we’re including the content of our article below:

What began as a simple brainstorming session between Creative Youth Center (CYC) Program Manager Brianne Carpenter and owner of Triumph Music Academy James Hughes evolved into a full-blown collaboration, and now a full-length music and spoken word album, created by Grand Rapids youth—and it’s receiving a lot of positive attention.

It started when Triumph students wrote music to accompany poems written by CYC students, using the tone of the poems to inspire and shape their songs. Following the collaboration, the CYC and Triumph held a December performance that packed the Wealthy Theater Annex to capacity, leaving only standing room in the audience.

The success of the performance led to the opportunity to record an album of the music and poems at River City Studios. When Michigan Radio’s Dustin Dwyer caught wind of the collaboration between the CYC and Triumph, he decided to follow the story—which is forthcoming this month.

Though the CYC couldn’t have wished for anything better at this point, the good news kept coming. The work of the CYC and one student poem were featured on WGVU’s Mutually Inclusive, a show hosted by Mariano Avila that focuses on organizations and individuals advancing inclusion and equity in our community. In addition, WYCE’s Electric Poetry featured student work in February.

Three of the poems written for the album collaboration took places in the Elementary Division of the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition, judged by the talented poets Oliver de la Paz and the newest poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Marcel “Fable” Price. Qyliyah’s poem, “Black Women are Our Guardians,” won the second-place prize; Willa’s “I Am” poem took third place; and Ja’Nesha received an Honorable Mention for her poem, “This is Who I Am.”

“We’re immensely proud of these three young women,” Carpenter says, “and of all of the writing CYC students have done this year.”

The winning poems will be published in Voices 2017, the annual publication of Dyer-Ives Poetry, and in Collecting Shadows and Lights: The Book of Explosions VI, the CYC’s forthcoming anthology of student writing that will be launched on Wednesday, May 31 at Wealthy Theatre at 5:00 p.m.

“We’d be remiss not to include a shout-out for one of our weekly program volunteers, Annie Livingston, who also placed in the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition,” Carpenter adds. “Volunteers like Annie, who are talented writers themselves, are an integral part of what make our programs shine.”

Taking all of the CYC’s success with this collaboration into account, they have decided to celebrate. Along with Triumph, the CYC wishes to extend an open invitation to join them in an Album Release Party at Brewery Vivant on Monday, May 22 at 7 p.m.

“This isn’t just a celebration for the CYC, Triumph Music Academy, and the album,” says Carpenter. “This is a chance for all of Grand Rapids to celebrate beautiful, student-made art.”

Come raise a glass with your fellow Grand Rapidians, and grab your copy of the album (cover art by Reb Roberts of Sanctuary Folk Art) before they sell out.