The Writers Center in Our Community
The kids loved the program and we can’t wait to continue next year. Thank you for lending your skills to the kids of the LIFE Center.Andrea Carson
A long history of outreach
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 instructor 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 Taft Stever created the Comprehensive Literacy Program (CLP) which continued for over ten years. 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.
In 2016, thanks to generous funding from the William E. Robinson Foundation, the Writers Center was able to revive their outreach efforts. We started with creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction and nonfiction for fourth and fifth graders attending after school programming at the RSHM Life Center in Sleepy Hollow and at the Nepperhan Community Center in Yonkers for middle school and elementary aged youth.
In 2017, our outreach efforts expanded thanks to a grant from St. Faith’s Foundation, enabling the programming at the LIFE Center to continue, and for new free workshops to begin for at-risk teens living at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and for pre-teens at the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester in Mt. Kisco. In the spring of 2018, we began providing creative writing workshops to youth at the Yonkers YMCA as we continued at RSHM and Children’s Village with measurable results evidenced by the powerful prose and poetry of these kids and teens.
The Writers Center board, staff, and instructors are motivated to provide creative writing programs that heal, inspire, and empower youth facing adversity. These programs 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. We are committed to continuing to expand this initiative, and HVWC outreach volunteers are in discussion with the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, senior centers, and with other underserved communities in order to develop opportunities for teaching writing workshops within those venues.