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)