Volunteer Spotlight: Grace Moore

By Rebecca Jefferson

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This interview was conducted at the café in Prairie Lights in Iowa City. Intern Grace, in her Friday best, arrived with a Starbucks latte, whose logo I helpfully hid in solidarity from the Prairie Lights Employees with the Matcha green tea latte I’d ordered. 

How did you get started with the IYWP, any why did you want to get involved? 

So, I tried to be a volunteer working on the sites for two straight years. It’s so ironic, and Mal and I kind of laugh about it, because I have improv on Wednesday nights and that always, no matter what, was an issue getting involved with a site. Another big day was Monday, and I had these night classes, so it just never worked out for me, which was a huge bummer. And I thought ‘man, this organization is so cool and I really want to get involved, so I actually, late into my sophomore year, emailed them, just cold emailed them, and I was like: hey do you guys have any internships available? I love this organization and I think that what you guys do is miraculous, but I can’t be a volunteer at a sight, so can I do something more internally?’ 

And they were super sweet and got back to me and we set up an interview and the rest is history! It was my first real job interview that I’ve ever had and I’m so glad it was that. Because Mal and Lisa and Leigh are like so wonderful. But I was so sweaty that I have a vivid memory in my mind of all of them wanting to shake my hand and me being like I physically don’t want to because I’m so sweaty. On the record I was wet, I was dripping wet! 

You said you’ve done a lot of internal work, and recently you helped put on a very fun workshop, so tell us about that workshop and some other things you’ve done with the IYWP. 

I’m on the programming squad with Mal, so the main things that we do are focused on planning curriculum and activities for events that the IYWP puts on. So, the main thing both years that I’ve been involved in this organization, that I really enjoy doing and have taken part in, is the Junior High Writing conference. We spend a lot of time planning activities for different age groups to cover different wants and needs.  

But this semester, since Mal is so nice and knows Paperback Rhino outside of me, we were kind of talking about a collaboration between the IYWP and Paperback Rhino. It was very complicated because Paperback Rhino is not a student org and the IYWP was just absorbed into the University, so it was very hard to coordinate an event that would work for everybody. But Mal and Lisa met with Jamie and I, we’re both the co-captains of PBR, and we kind of thought: well we could do a show that benefits the IYWP, we could do a kid show that has kids performing in it, and then what came out was—I think it was mostly Lisa who was like: well what if you train our interns about activities that they could do in their classrooms, because improv is so valuable in that way?’ And we were like, absolutely!’ That’s how that idea really started.  

The Funny-Up Workshop was a night where interns and site coordinators and kids could come and take away activities that they would be able to use in their classrooms. They also could learn techniques by doing which would help in a situation where things are kind of losing control. Which, I think, as interns, we experience that no matter if we’re at a sight every week or if we just work at special events. There are things that happen that’s like, ‘okay, didn’t expect that.’ So, it always helps to be able to think on your feet and say ‘okay, I can make light of this situation or I can redirect very quickly.’ It’s very helpful. 

So, since you brought up the Junior High Writing Conference, we’re going to go off script a little. Could you give us a sneak peek of what’s to come? 

Yes, of course! Well, this is an exclusive. Paperback Rhino is going to be teaching a workshop at the Junior High Writing Conference, which we did last year and everyone really vibed with it! So, we’ll be there. There’ll be all kinds of activities—we’re doing comics, sketches, spoken word poetry, etc. The conference is just so amazing because kids want to be there. (that’s what was awesome about the Funny-up Workshop too, people were coming because they wanted to be there and felt like we had something to give them). 

What’s your most memorable moment volunteering with the IYWP? 

Okay so, there was, I really don’t even remember what year it was, it was two semesters ago maybe. We did a workshop with a group of kids, I don’t think it was necessarily age restricted, it was a pretty wide age group but there was a lot of younger kids there, just really young kids. We did it at the Iowa City Public Library. There was a girl there who came, and she said: I really don’t like writing, I don’t like reading, I like to draw and I’m gonna be drawing all the prompts for the day.  

It was just the prog squad there and we didn’t really know what to say to her, we wanted to be like you can’t just draw you have to write. But Mal handled it really well, she’s like super experienced with that kind of thing, and she was like: that’s fine, you can draw but you have to draw what the prompts are asking you to write. The girl was like: that’s fine, and she was really young—she was probably like seven, and she was very quiet verytypical artist, she was very introspective and just wanted to be with her work. And she would not show anyone what she was working on. So, the prompts kept coming and by the end of it kids were supposed to go up and share their work.  

We were teaching them different forms of poetry, like we taught them odes and other forms, and at the end we were asking for volunteers to share and she didn’t come up and didn’t come up. She hadn’t said anything the whole time. And at the end, when we got to the ode she raised her hand and we were like: oh, yeah okay. is she going to show the picture or what is she gonna do? She goes up and she had written a full ode, and just really took to it, and with each turning image in her poem she had drawn a little image. And we were like: oh we thought that you only just wanted to draw. And she was like: well, I realized I could kind of do comics, I can write what I draw.  

And it was just like, watching her find a form that works for her as a combination that she hadn’t thought of, and that we hadn’t thought of, and just watching her come out of her shell, It was very very cool. It makes the other stuff when you know you’re not reaching a kid, like you can have seventy of those, but to have the one that you do reach it just kind of makes it all equal in whatever way. So that was probably my most memorable moment.  

Yes! That’s a good one. It’s nice to see students flourish when they have the tools to! 

Yeah! I kind of felt that same way when we planned—I can’t remember the name of it—it’s like a day where we have students of marginalized groups– (the interviewer and interviewee try for five minutes to jog each other’s memories on what it’s called) we spent so many weeks planning it, but we had so many writers middle school high school teens of color and they come in and we do a day of different hot button issues relating to marginalized groups. So, like Immigration, LGBTQIA+, we did woman’s rights, we did native peoples’ right as well, and we have them do like a chain reaction of what they learned that day and the across the line acceptance stuff. Ugh, I can’t remember the name, I’m so humiliated by that! (The interviewer promises to confer with Lisa on the name). It was very cool to plan and just know that the room was going to be filled with people who this country is skewed to silence and that their voices were going to be so loud and heard so loud because it’s about them. That just felt really good to plan and be a part of.  

Why do you think writing and Improv are important, and how do they feed into each other? 

So, I have never done improv literally until I walked into the audition my freshmen year of college. I did not know what it was; I had no prior knowledge of it. The people that are deciding whether you’re going to be on a team always ask you, ‘why are you here?’ Improv is a huge thing in Iowa City so a lot of the people trying out had been like, ‘Oh well I did a JSAJ speech in high school or whatever’, and I remember that my reasonI remember saying it because I felt that way as a scared 18 year old and I feel that way now as a scared 21 year old. But um, I wanted to be creative and I wanted to find a group of people that nurtured and enhanced that creativity. And I think that the same is said for writing, writers are nothing if they are not with each other. They learn from each other, they read from each other. You know, every writer’s always like: ‘Oh the best way to get better is to read. And I feel that same way about improv. I am nothing on that stage when I am doing something alone.  

And that’s alot of what we worked on in the workshop was—we did this thing called Human Beatbox, and it was that one person came forward and did a sound or a noise and another person would come forward and do a sound or a noise. Then they layered on top of each other to create this wonderful weird beat. With one person, it’s just one weird person going like “beep beep beep”. You know it’s very strange. I feel like the two intersect in the way that they’re a collaborative creative effort where we learn from each other to be better and to create something that’s whole. So that’s how I feel like they intersect, but what was the first question? 

(laughs) Why are they important? 

Oh, why is it important! I’m talking so much I’m losing track (laughs). I think it’s so important to utilize creative artistic energy no matter what. I don’t think it’s important like ‘oh for creative people, it’s so important to perform and be out with their creativity.’ No! I think it’s so important for people, especially young people, especially malleable minds. Minds that are still growing and changing and still forming ideas about the world. It’s So crucial for them to have creativity and to put forth creative energy.  

You know, we have art majors on PBR, we have English majors, but we also have finance majors, philosophy majors, pre-med majors. We have a variety of people who come from all kinds of backgrounds and strengths and they all use the creative side of their brain. And I think that writing is the exact same way. I hate it when people say: ‘I don’t like to read’ or ‘I don’t like to write’ or ‘I’m not a good writer, I’m not a good reader’. Yes, you are! I think it’s so important and that’s why I think the IYWP is important, going back to the first question, because they’re teaching young kids that you don’t get to pick and choose if your artistic or if you’re, the word I hate so much, if you’re ‘artsy’. You don’t get to pick and choose that; everybody has that side it’s about nurturing it. Because life is richer when we can imagine places and scenarios in our mind. Life is richer when we have the moments where we live inside our own minds and can bring that to fruition for a while. And that’s what both writing, and improv is. And I think that’s for everybody, it should be for everybody. 

That was beautiful! Everyone we work with is so smart! 

Everyone in the WORLD is so. Smart! Excluding the president. Okay, I said it. Put that in.  

I’ll put it in (laughs). 

The president is dumb. That should just be a section. 

Yes. But back to you, I’ve experienced what you’re talking about, and I agree that it’s very real! 

I’m so glad to hear that. I am a firm believer that everybody, when given the chance to nurture that spirit, has that spirit. You know what I mean? I’m so grateful just from the way that I was raised that it was always like ’yeah, whatever you feel like doing that’s what we will nurture within you.’ That was so powerful and the reason why I feel that way today. Both writing and improv are such a huge part of my life and my college experience. It’s such a gift to be able to go into the community and say ‘look, you have never done improv, but you love writing and you work for this organization that teaches writing. All you have to do is show up and look at how good this is. Like look at what we can make. It’s not scary, it’s not hard. It’s fun. Because you’re bringing something that just lived up here, that you didn’t even know was living up there, out—and look at how it turned out. So, yeah. 

What’s your favorite improv game/setup/scene/skit and how would you build a lesson plan out of it? 

Ho-ho! Buckle up! When I was a freshman there was this warmup that the Old B’s, the people in PBR that have graduated, did. The Old B’s were so talented, they were so good, and we ended up winning best improv team in the nation that year. It was really their influence that made it happen, I wish I had enough hubris to be like ‘it was really me’, but it was absolutely not. So, it was really them that cultivated that. They used to do this warmup called Human Beatbox (I know I’ve already mentioned this), at the start of practice they’d be like ‘let’s do human beatbox’ and we’d circle up really close and we would say ‘alright we’re gonna go round in a circle, just flow with it, don’t make eye contact with each other, just feel your rhythm and add on to it. And we’d go around and there would be layers, so it’s one person who, layer by layer, makes a noise, the other one adds to that and we’d jam with it for awhile. Sometimes it would go so well that we’d get chills because we had just made that up. And other times it would just be so bad that we’d have to stop and be like, “yiikkees…” But we would do that, and we did that frequently, not every practice, but it was pretty frequent because it was a really good idea generator.  

I was just a mere freshmen, and towards the end of the year, maybe march, I say ‘hey what if we do this as our opener to a longform. We get a suggestion from the audience of anything and we create that anything in our beatbox and we break up and that informs a long from, which is a series of relating scenes. The longform is also what we compete with and what we close every show with, it’s a huge thing. And the Old B’s were so wonderful, that they cultivated the idea and they were like: absolutely we can do that!’ And now it’s an opener that we use, so that’s probably my favorite.  

At the workshop we talked about ways to make a lesson plan out of Human Beatbox. So, you could get a suggestion of a place from a kid, and another group of kids will go up and create that place with their sounds and noises and kind of create a flow. Then the students write about what they see and heard and saw and smelled in that place. Because they witnessed it unfold. Like five kids can come up into a hotel lobby and the rest of them can write about, ‘Oh well I saw a bellhop dinging a bell’ ‘I saw a luggage cart being moved from the elevator’ ‘I saw a tourist husband and wife on their honeymoon.’ And you can see what you wanna see from that because in beatbox we can’t tell you what we’re doing. We have to leave it up to you decide what the noises we’re making and the little actions we’re doing are. And that’s what it is.  

I think that would be a really great way to explore a space, through hearing it and letting your imagination take the driver’s seat.  To say: ‘okay we have a place, now what’s something that can happen in that place? There could be a bellhop who’s in love with a receptionist, and well, what happens? Well, the receptionist is in love with the vending machine guy. You could really investigate a place and create a plot through something that you’re seeing. I think an investigation of the five senses is a cornerstone of writing! When I’m writing a new project, I’m always like ‘let me explore the five senses and what can I learn from one or more of those senses about the space I’m in or I’m creating? It’s so easy to ask kids to find a place that they like and describe it, but what if you ask them ‘the space that’s laid out in front of you, what’s happening that we can see, and what’s happening that we can’t see?’ And that, I just think that’s immeasurable. 

That sounds so fun, I might borrow it! 

Oh, definitely. 

So, I tried my hand at a sort of improv scenario for your last question: It’s 200 billion years into the future, and all that’s left of humanity on earth for aliens to find is a picture of you. What are you doing in the picture/how do you look, what impression do you hope aliens get about humanity from the picture? 

(at the recorder) are you hearing this? Are you hearing this? (laughs) 

Ok, so, 200 billion years– 

We’re not going to worry about how the picture has been perfectly preservedmaybe it’s a polaroid. 

Ugh and I love! What am I doing in the picture? So, in my cheesiest self, I’m withDo people get cheesy with this or do they get funny? 

Well, this is the first time I’ve asked this question. I always choose a different one. 

Ok! Um…I am at my happy place, which is at my nana and papi’s house, those are my grandparents, and they live in this small like 2000-person town, really near to my home called Lebanon, Illinois. And my grandma, in the summer she will, they have a pool, and she will go out in this beautiful turquoise flower pool cover-up. And she will go into her garden barefoot, a rose garden, and she will go, and she will pick flowers. She will usually be picking them for—this is so cheesy—but she will usually be picking them for me to take home. And she’s A) my favorite person and B) my really really good friend, like my very special companion. And so, she will be picking the flowers for me to take home and in my picture, I’d probably be next to her in that garden, it’s this very like lush beautiful garden with many different flowers, just mostly roses. So, I’d be next to her on a wonderfully—I’m a big fan of dry heat, I know that’s not popular, but I love dry heat, so it would be like a ninety-eight-degree day, no humidity ninety-eight degrees. I would just be next to her, maybe with both of our backs facing the polaroid and we’re just picking the flowers.  

And what would people think about humanity? I mean, my face is very intense they’d probably be like why is this woman so intense-looking but also I think that my nana radiates such tenderness and care that I hope they would look back on it and be like ‘oh, in an age when we thought that humans were so destructive and like really took advantage of different resources on earth and lost a lot of things for us in the future and were so reliant on their machines–’ I hope they would look back and be like: ‘oh there was tenderness and there was at least a moment of just  good weather, because we all know that’s on its way out, but you know there was also a moment of peace and a moment of tenderness and genuine human connection. I hope they’d be like wow peace, tenderness, human connection, and! Okay we all know they won’t have flowers, so they’d be like ‘What are those!’ 

I feel like the alien who finds that will replant earth to just be a giant rose garden. And it will be like all that’s left is the roses. 

Yes! Oh, and hopefully it will be called Nana’s Garden! That’s my dream yeah. 

Oh, is that scribbled on the back of the polaroid? 

Yes, I will make sure of that! Yes, Nana’s Garden. So that would be what I want them to see, just a happy place. 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Leah Waughtal-Magiera

By Erin McInerney

Leah Waughtal

1. When did you first start volunteering with the IYWP and why?

I found IYWP through the course Writing With Purpose. At the time it was taught by Andy Axel and it was a really wonderful way to build volunteer work into my class schedule. Arts education and non-profit work were, and are, incredibly close to my heart. In my own hometown as a high school student I was able to benefit from programing that is very similar to what IYWP provides. For me it felt like pouring back into the vessel that had filled me, giving back to a literary community that had validated me as a young person. Reciprocal is the word that comes to mind. My involvement began my sophomore year and I’ve been here ever since.

2. Which is your favorite school to volunteer at?

You will mostly spot me at specialty events because I work with programing and event planning. But when I’m not helping out with an author’s workshop or a festival booth I regularly attend Tate Poetry Club on Friday mornings. That group of students is electric. I admit sometimes we spend too much time laughing  – but I promise the work they create at the end of each session is dazzling. I have recently started a Spoken Word Club at West High but Taters are a sweet spot for me.

3. What do you like about the IYWP as an organization? What keeps you volunteering with us?

I love the transparency. Our director and other core team members are always honest and excited to work collaboratively to create programming. There is something about that dynamic that truly speaks to authenticity. It would be a lie to say I’ve never been intimidating by the brilliant minds at IYWP, the educators and artists, but each session with them is filled with validation. If you have an exciting idea for anything – from something simple like a prompt to a full-blown workshop – they want to hear it all and they want to help you make it happen.

4. What is one most-memorable moment from your time with the IYWP?

This is a hard question because there are so many, so that means I have to name more that one! Eating Hot Cheetos and pickles with Tate poets during their end of semester party is definitely one. Listening to a high school student analyze a William Carlos Williams poem with more grace and skill than any college student I’ve ever met is another. Hearing Roxanne Gay give writing advice – definitely. But I think my favorite was the Alexander Chee workshop. There was a moment when the author braved a question on the tumultuous nature of being biracial – something he and the student who asked the question shared. He told her to write about that feeling because it was important. I think about that all the time and how powerful representation is – how vital it is for young people to see themselves reflected back by the artists they revere.

5. What is your favorite book? How would you format a IYWP writing class around it?

My favorite book right now is probably Sula but if you ask me next week it might be something different. I think I would look at that scene where the two girls throw the little boy into the river and he disappears. It is such a trippy dreamy moment. I would turn it into a prompt and ask writers to create a scene in which an unexplainable act occurs – one that irrevocably binds together the two characters who experienced it. Then, from there, write one ending in which things turn out happily because of this act and another in which the opposite occurs.

6. What was your inspiration for starting the spoken word club at West High? What has the process been like?

I come from a spoken word community. I slammed in high school and competed nationally on a team. I know how powerful spoken word is, how accessible it is, how fluid and accepting it can be. It’s a unique medium that doesn’t ask you to be a perfect writer, or hone some elitist skill. Its really about community, bearing witness, and reading stories. It was a gift that was given to me, in high school, when I really needed it. At West I just wanted to extend that hand – that opportunity to other young writers who might need that space like I did. It has gone surprisingly smooth so far and I chalk a lot of that up to the teachers at West who have made it possible and my co-facilitator Caleb, who is beyond wonderful. 

7. Would you rather have the ability to make something only in books reality or erase something that exists in real life?

Do comics count? When I got into Wonder Woman I was infatuated with her bracelets. They’re indestructible and great for dodging bullets. But my favorite part is probably that they’re made of a material named “feminum”. They would be pretty rad to have in real life. 

Staff Spotlight: Assistant Director Lisa Roberts

The Iowa Youth Writing Project is a machine of many cogs. An incredible number of people make up the organization, and they are all vital to its success. From volunteers, to donors, to the amazing kids we work with, none of it could be possible without their support. With all of these wonderful people, it is important to spotlight specific members of the organization who go above and beyond to make the IYWP as great as it can be. One of said people is staff member Lisa Roberts. Lisa is the Assistant Director of the Iowa Youth Writing Project. She officially began the position this fall, but she has been working with the IYWP for many years and is considered a core member of the team

Because Lisa has been with the organization for so long, I asked her what her inspiration was for joining the IYWP in the first place: 

“When I first moved to Iowa City in 2011, I was looking for a way to meet like-minded people and use some of my training to give back to the community,” she explains. “Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, since the people I’ve met have been incredible. They’ve helped me grow as a teacher by expanding my ideas on what can happen in a workshop. My interactions with the kids have been amazingly rewarding as well.”

Lisa often works with kids at workshops in addition to executing her administrative duties. She finds that these two actions can work well in conjunction with each other, especially when it comes to programming. For example, her greatest accomplishment with the IYWP melded both administration and on the ground work:

“My greatest accomplishment was probably getting our therapeutic writing workshop up and running at the John McDonald Residential Treatment center. I wrote the grant that inaugurated the project. In fact, that was the first grant I had ever written, and it was exciting to have it accepted by the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Then there’s reaching out to JMRT, connecting with administration, and training new volunteers in therapeutic writing techniques. Of course, the most important part of all was being able to work with this amazing group of young women every Saturday during the school year for two years. It was amazingly satisfying to see that program through its initiation to full on development, until it was so successful that we could pass it on to new site coordinators and a new group of volunteers,” she said.

Clearly, Lisa has done an unbelievable amount of work in order to help the Iowa Youth Writing Project grow and further its mission. When I asked her about her most memorable moment with the organization, it was very difficult for her to pick:

“Oh, there are so many great times when kids who at first didn’t want to write finally got the spark and took off to do incredible work. I felt lucky to be able to be there when that happened. However, I’m probably going to have pick when I saw little Janice again, at the end of the summer, about a month after her Superhero Gear camp. She saw me from the end of a long hallway in the public library, and she yelled, “I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you again!” She ran at full force all the way down the hallway. When a gift like that comes at you at full speed, all you can do is plant your feet, bend your knees, and open your arms. She launched from about three feet away and just latched herself onto me in the biggest hug. That was the best way to end a summer of awesome camps.”

Lisa’s devotion to the Iowa Youth Writing Project is shown not only in her interactions with kids, but also in her long hours spent writing emails, coordinating sites, and developing programming. This administrative aspect comprises a large portion of Lisa’s job and is essential to the success of the organization. Lisa’s work is admirable, and it is the wonderful people like her who make the IYWP not only function, but thrive. Thank you, Lisa, for all the work you do.

Why Writing with Purpose?

By Michael Corsiglia, Writing with Purpose Peer Assistant and former student

Can college students gain real world experience from a course?  A question that is asked constantly throughout the academic world.  For one class at the University of Iowa, the answer is yes.  Each semester 15 students are able to enroll in Writing with Purpose, a class that uniquely works hand-in-hand with a non-profit organization based in Iowa City.  The Iowa Youth Writing Project is an organization that provides free in-school and after-school writing workshops for students in hopes of empowering children with language, literature, and creative thinking.

Students who take this course have the opportunity to work at one of three different sites in the Iowa City area.  The sites range from high school students at Tate High School, younger elementary students at Longfellow Elementary, and 5th and 6th graders at Mark Twain elementary school.   As part of the course curriculum students create their own lesson plans to be used once weekly at their schools.  During class time students brainstorm different ideas and strategies to best create an imaginative, creative, and fun environment for students.

The course is perfect for college students with aspirations in teaching or any career working with children.  Unlike other education courses at the University this course involves hands on experience in an actual classroom, with real students, and a real lesson plan.  The course even gives students the opportunity to publish their own anthology of works that are written by the students at their site.

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Hanna Busse

VolSpotlight-HannaBusseAt what site(s) do you volunteer, and what activities do you do with these kids?
I volunteer at Monticello. We do lots of writing and drawing activities, and we generally focus our activities this way: they can provide a way in, inside yourself to explore your emotions, your past, etc., or a way out, out of your real life (which is sometimes difficult) to places of fantasy and science fiction and make believe. Some favorites include exquisite corpse and anything with music.

What initially drew you to the Iowa Youth Writing Project?
Honestly, I needed a writing certificate credit that wasn’t a creative writing workshop! My advisor, Danny Khalastchi, suggested that I give Writing with Purpose a try. It turned out to be my favorite class!

Do you have a favorite story or anecdote about your volunteer experience?
One of my favorite experiences was seeing the kids from Longfellow Elementary at last fall’s reading at Prairie Lights. I volunteered with them during spring of 2014, and it was amazing how much some of them had grown as humans (they got so tall!) and as writers. And they remembered me! Some even said hi.

How do you assemble a lesson plan? Is there a set process or is it more rooted in intuition?
I tend to pick a warm-up, a main activity or two, and a “cool-down” (opposite of warm-up) or sharing time. As far as coming up with ideas, I’m totally an intuition kinda gal. There are a million books and web resources out there. That I don’t use unless I’m super stuck.

I love the collaborative spirit of the IYWP. Usually, I’m planning in a group. At Monticello we take turns, but usually I’ve got some ideas ahead of time. I’ll share them in the car on the way over and get other people’s feedback. We tend to build on the ideas, or find newer, better ones and build on those.

So by the time I sit down to write up the lesson plan, I already know 90% of what I’m going to write. (Usually I feel like none of it is my work, though that’s not true, really. And anyway, Catherine Blauvelt always used to encourage us to be pirates and steal bits of lessons from anywhere and everywhere!) I guess mostly, then compile things into one coherent lesson plan.

What motivates you when you volunteer? What keeps you coming back?
The people. Forming relationships with the students is important to me; I can’t just STOP showing up!

Also, I feel like I’m part of a volunteer team. We each have unique skills, and I never want to leave my team in the lurch when they need someone quiet to sit in the corner with a student who doesn’t want to share anything out loud. (I happen to be good at that.)

I’m also selfish. I love participating in the activities (especially theatre games) and being creative myself!

Can you tell us a bit more about the movement + word program you’re working on with Jess Anthony from the Dance Department?
Essentially, the program is a series of four days, four lessons, at Monticello where we use dance and movement as an alternate way to explore creatively. We then take that new knowledge and experience and apply it to writing.

We’ve done one workshop so far. We introduced the students to movement and dance in an approachable way with a warm-up that made us aware of our bodies and the space around us. Then, we partnered up and practiced using different “shapes” (straight shapes, curved shapes, angular shapes, and twisting shapes) to pose and to move. Lastly, we split the group in two. Half worked with their partners again while the other half wrote short phrases or adjectives describing what they saw. We took those lists of words and phrases and used them as the basis for a free-write.

And there’s more to come! I think we’ll be splitting into groups and making scenes or tableaus with different shapes. The audience will then write about what they, as viewers, see in the scenes (Is it a family having dinner? Or two birds flying over ocean waves? An apartment building lying on its side?) and build a narrative.

Thanks so much to Hanna for all her time and creativity!

Volunteer Spotlight: Deanne Wortman

Volunteer Spotlight

At what site(s) do you volunteer, and what activities do you do with these kids? I am volunteering with Gianna Canning at Mark Twain school in Iowa City.

 What initially drew you to the Iowa Youth Writing Project? Rachel Yoder contacted me. I have am an avid reader and have become interested in writing.  I had taken two writing workshops with Rachel in the past and subsequently one of my stories was published in Little Village.

Do you have a favorite story or anecdote about your volunteer experience? On the Wednesday before Halloween one of the kindergartners looked at me and told me I was old.  “How can you tell?” I asked. “Just the way you are and your hair is white.” “Would you like me to tell you how my hair got white?” …And so I told the kindergarteners about my summer camp experience with The Headless Horseman when I was about their age and how it has been white ever since!

I have heard that you use props and costumes (e.g. puppets, hats) for some of your lessons. What inspired you to do that? Is there a particular puppet/hat/boa that the kids like the most? Monica Leo and I created Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre many years ago and I worked in the Iowa City Public Library’s children’s room for many years presenting several story programs each week. I became a storyteller and puppeteer sometimes partnering with a musician friend. We also participated the the Iowa State Arts Council’s “Artists In The Schools” program. For many years we performed and worked with children in schools all over Iowa.  During this time I collected, puppets, costumes and props which we used in our Picture Story Theatre performances. I am not performing much anymore but my house is full of interesting storytelling stuff. It is a pleasure to see the delight in the  Kindergartner’s faces when I bring  Mr. Cat or The Bad Flower or Mr. Frog or the Two Bad Crows to Twain on Wednesdays. I think the puppets are happy to get out of the house, too. Besides being a lot of fun, it is a way for kids to begin to learn how to tell a story and all that involves

How do you assemble a lesson plan? Is there a set process or is it more rooted in intuition? I have a general idea of which skill we want to practice but the choice of puppet, story, prop and activity is more spontaneous. I have a lot of resources right at home so finding the right prop seems to come naturally.

Kindergartners are really of pre-writers so I had to think of ways to involve them in the narrative in process other ways.  I try to make a program that involves building the intellectual tools needed in writing: active listening, understanding narrative structure, remembering a sequence of events, characterization, details…. color, sound, smells, actions, etc.  through physical and visual activities. I have used draw and tell stories, tell and cut stories, finger games, Kamishibai (a kind of portable mini story theater involving picture cards), songs, drawing etc.

What motivates you, when you volunteer? What keeps you coming back? 
I enjoy talking to young children. They are curious, enthusiastic, excited, loving and funny.  Everything is new to them. Working with them it is all new for me again and again and again! There is a pleasure in watching them grow in ability and understanding. Working with young children keeps us old folks from getting grumpy!

I also volunteer as a storyteller at Oaknoll Retirement Center where my audience is mostly older than I am (and they all have white hair!) It is a similar experience for both listener and teller no matter the age.

Thanks again, Deanne! Your work is greatly appreciated!

To sign-up online to volunteer with the IYWP, please visit iywp.volunteerhub.com.