The Rapidian

Local creative inspires children to become published writers

Lori Slager, executive director and co-founder of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, teaches kids to write using the creative side of the written word and unique publishing goals.
Lori Slager, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center

Lori Slager, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center /Michael Walton

Creative Youth Center

CYC Contact Information:

758 Wealthy St SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

(616) 458-5505

www.creativeyouthcenter.org

Email: [email protected]

GR Creative Youth Center on Facebook

 

Buy Does This Book Make My Brain Look Big? from Schuler Books.

Buy Under the Sun from Schuler Books.

"Does This Book Make My Brain Look Big?" and "Under the Sun," written by CYC students.

"Does This Book Make My Brain Look Big?" and "Under the Sun," written by CYC students. /Michael Walton

CYC's new space at the Wealthy and Eastern.

CYC's new space at the Wealthy and Eastern. /Michael Walton

Good writing and presentation make a big difference in today’s professional environment, but it’s not always easy to get kids excited about learning to write. Lori Slager, co-founder and executive director of the Creative Youth Center (CYC), manages this by engaging kids with the more creative side of the written word and by publishing their work.

Slager developed a deep love of children at a young age. She was 11 when the first of her many nieces and nephews was born. She grew up babysitting her large family. At age 16, Slager got a job at a daycare.

By the time she was in high school, Slager knew she wanted to be a teacher. She continued to babysit and volunteer with children whenever she could while earning her degree in art education at Calvin College.

Slager’s involvement in the nonprofit world grew out of her interest in after school tutoring. She says after school programs offer more freedom and uniqueness in a teacher's approach. When she started the CYC, it was a perfect combination of Slager’s interests in teaching and art.

The CYC’s after school and extracurricular programs offer a uniquely creative focus. The students write short stories, poems and news articles rather than essays and other projects they would deem boring. Slager says that keeping the programs fun and inspired engages the kids and gets them excited about writing.

She says the excitement does not necessarily come quickly or easily.

"They react how you’d probably expect, at first,” Slager says, grinning. 

It’s hard to get kids excited about what they view as extra homework, she says. The reward of publication, however, helps a great deal.

“Whenever we start a program, we tell them we’re going to publish their work. They hear that and they’re like ‘oh, whatever,’” says Slager. “It isn’t until they actually see it that they really get motivated and really start writing a lot.”

Slager's position as executive director of the Creative Youth Center involves a lot of administrative duties, but personal interaction with the students is still an important part of her life.

“I have to [teach] right now because we don’t have enough staff, but I also have to [because] otherwise I go kind of crazy,” Slager says.

Interacting with the kids reminds her why she created the CYC. Slager often teaches or is present for the first few classes of a new program. This helps her ensure that the program leaders keep things fun and creatively stimulating for the kids. It also gives Slager the opportunity to stay connected with them.

Slager’s administrative role keeps her busy. She says that it’s tough not being able to visit classes as frequently as she would like where she’s built relationships. Some of the girls at Alger Middle School become upset with her when she can’t make it to their class.

But when she can attend, Slager says that the kids and their enthusiasm to see her make it all worth it.

“That’s the part that I really like,” she says.

Slager says that teaching middle school students is especially interesting for her at the moment.

“Most people hate middle school, which is good for me,” says Slager.

She explains that their brains are growing and changing in middle school, which gives them the ability to think in new ways creatively. Slager says that high school kids think creatively too, but they’re more independent and generally won’t listen if they don’t like the teacher. Middle school kids are still eager to please, she's found.

Teaching at the CYC has presented Slager with some unique challenges. At the moment she's teaching a class at the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center. The students in her class have gone through a big move from their home country to the United States under refugee status. Slager sometimes worries that she’s not doing enough to help the kids work through what they’ve experienced. She does her best to implement fun and relevant exercises such as having the kids invent their own country.

When she’s not teaching, Slager runs marathons and works on some writing of her own. Her personal writings include mostly fictional short stories. There is the occasional poem, which Slager says is mostly just her “goofing around.” 

Slager hopes to publish some of her own work this year. It’s a feat that she’s already helped many students to accomplish through CYC collections like “Does this Book Make My Brain Look Big?” and “Under the Sun.” She does not begrudge her protégés their success. In fact, Slager is often amazed by their way with words.

“They say some pretty awesome things,” says Slager.

Slager says she can't resist sharing some of the funny or insightful comments they make on Facebook. She says this ends up helping keep the community invested and interested in volunteering as teachers.

The CYC has published the work of 116 kids this year. Their newest book is "Even a Table, Even an Elephant" by the students at Congress Elementary and is available from Schuler's Books or at the Creative Youth Center's headquarters and "adventure store" at the corner of Wealthy and Eastern.

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