Volunteer Spotlight: Derek Kellison

VolunteerSporlight-KellisonAt what site(s) do you volunteer, and what activities do you do with these kids?
I volunteer at the McDonald Residential Treatment Center in Monticello where we host a creative writing workshop every Saturday.

What initially drew you to the Iowa Youth Writing Project?
I was initially drawn to the IYWP almost three years ago when Audrey Smith, the then Intern Coordinator, talked to me about all the cool and exciting things I could do while volunteering. I started out at Mark Twain, and I’ve been with the IYWP ever since.

Do you have a favorite story or anecdote about your volunteer experience?
The most rewarding thing for me so far as a volunteer has been listening to the stories of Monticello residents about their successes after our first semester of working together. When we started there many of the residents were a little unsure of what to think of us weird, crazy writer people. Since then we have built an inviting, trusting, and creative community together.

How do you assemble a lesson plan? Is there a set process, or is it more rooted in intuition?
Whenever I sit down to make a lesson plan I find myself drawing mostly on events in my own life that are affecting me at the time. There’s no real method to the madness, but I can always see the end goal in my head.

What motivates you to volunteer? What keeps you coming back?
Similarly, I am motivated to volunteer by a goal that I always have when going into a classroom: to have fun while learning. If I can make a connection with a student, I know I’m doing something right. The smiles that form when that connection is made are always the best rewards.

Last summer you were a Creative Ambassador for the IYWP in your hometown. Can you tell us what exactly the Creative Ambassador Program is and what you got out of it?
Last summer I lead a creative writing workshop in my hometown, Shenandoah, as part of the Creative Ambassadors Initiative. Creative Ambassadors is an outreach project started by the IYWP and supported by the UI’s Art Share in the summer of 2014. It was designed to bring IYWP programming to schools, communities, and children throughout the state of Iowa. What is unique about the program is that it made connections between UI students/IYWP volunteers and their hometowns. The first workshops of the program were based in Boone and Shenandoah and centered around poetry and comic books. The IYWP’s Adam Edelman and I led these workshops.

My own workshop included four kids from the Page County area (Shenandoah and surrounding rural communities) who were of grades 4-6. We worked building characters and experimenting with the form of comics. The students were all very dedicated and talented, and we had a blast! Here is a description of the activities we worked on:

Character Sketches: This activity features two characters who may or may not know each other. For the first character we introduced ourselves to the group as if we were the character. Then we created a dialogue between the first character and the second character. During the course of the two characters’ conversation strange things like severe weather and phone calls from the president happened to help shape the dialogue.

Profile Sketch: In this activity we chose characters from the previous activity to sketch in full. Then we listed facts about them: likes, dislikes, hobbies, family, jobs. This activity allowed us to get better acquainted with the characters before we put them into a comic.

Creating a Comic: To prepare for this activity we first practiced panel drawing and then made rough sketches of what we wanted the final comic to look like. We then used the dialogue and characters from previous activities to refine these sketches into the final product.

Improv Comics: These comics were made by all participants in the two-day workshop. The comics start with one stick figure placed anywhere on the comic and are passed around the table for each participant to add their own touch. We keep going around the table until the pages are filled with everyone’s drawings. Some additions are big, others are small and harder to find. These comics depict funny scenes, epic battles, dance parties, and much more.


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