The Writers' Center in Our Community
From The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center’s beginnings in the 1980s, some of the writers involved have engaged in outreach work in underserved communities. For several years, the Writers’ Center board of directors and affiliated writers in the community created a group that traveled to nursing homes, residential homes for at risk children, battered women’s shelters, and homeless shelters to present one day writing workshops. After assessing the effectiveness of these experiences, the Writers’ Center outreach group determined that longer-term writing workshop would be more useful in reaching students and teaching the basics of creative writing. A workshop was established at ARCS (Aids-Related Community Services). One of the ARCS students who participated in the Center’s workshop got a book published as a result of the experience. Another long-term workshop was established at the Clear View School in Scarborough. While the administration was skeptical about whether such workshops would be useful for their students who suffered from severe mental disorders such as autism, after the Writers’ Center teacher presented poetry writing workshops which lasted a decade, they determined that it was so successful that they decided to take the poetry workshop in house.
At the largest family homeless shelter in Westchester County, the Coachman Family Center, Margo Stever created the Comprehensive Literacy Program (CLP) which continued for over a decade. The program consisted of after school homework help, writing and special arts workshops, and a computer lab created by the Center’s outreach teachers. These same teachers enlisted student volunteers from Hackley School and Marymount College to assist the Coachman students with their homework and with learning how to use the computer lab. As a result, many students improved in their school work. Several students in this program were given the tools that allowed them to apply for and to attend college, and one of the students received an MSW from Fordham College and currently works as a social worker. He attributes his success to the Writers’ Center literacy project. Since the Coachman students had little to do when school ended in June, the CLP was expanded to include tutorial work in the summer.
Also lasting around a decade, the GEMS program, created by the late poet and HVWC board member, Brenda Connor-Bey, was another successful program for at risk girls at the White Plains YWCA.
During winter/spring 2017, the Writers’ Center is adding to their outreach program by the expansion of writing workshops at RSHM Life Center in Sleepy Hollow, and the creation of workshops at Nepperhan Community Center in Yonkers, and at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry.
This spring, the Center will facilitate multi-week creative writing and poetry workshops series for youth, ages 10-18. They will learn the essentials of creative writing such as story or poem structure, setting, and character development. Youth will put their ideas and thoughts to paper, using imagination, organization, and planning. Students will:
* Learn the basic elements of creative writing, from prose fiction to poetry.
* Effectively use language in a variety of creative writing genres, with attention to precision, appropriateness, conciseness, connotation, and freshness.
* Write creative works in at least two different genres, using appropriate manuscript form .
The Writers’ Center board, staff, and outreach workers are motivated to provide creative writing programs that heal, inspire, and empower youth facing adversity. These programs will create positive, long-lasting change for youth facing major life challenges such as abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, foster care, mental, emotional and behavioral challenges, and incarceration. The positive development that young people experience in community arts programs is related to success in other areas of their lives. According to a report by The National Endowment for the Arts, at-risk students who have access to the arts tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.
The Center realizes that in this day of overwhelming influence of internet, television, and other media, many of our young people are not getting the benefit of literary work and are not learning the art of self-expression through creative writing. HVWC’s past programs have included educational components for underserved children and people with special needs. The Board and Staff are committed to expanding this initiative, and HVWC outreach workers are in discussion with the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and with other underserved communities in order to develop opportunities for teaching writing workshops within those venues.