In celebration of a new CD they recorded, homeless children from Washtenaw County gathered with University students to read poetry yesterday.
One of the children, a 10-year-old girl, read from her poem titled “Pink” at last night’s culmination event of Telling It, a literary enrichment program, in the East Quad Auditorium.
“Pink/the color and I disagree/the color that I can’t be,” she said. “Pink, the color of flowers/of imaginary dollars.”
Sponsored by the University’s Arts of Citizenship program, Telling It is a three-credit RC course through which students use creative writing to reach out to homeless children ages 7 to 10 and get them interested in reading.
Students work with Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti homeless children to participate in “play shops,” create poetry and keep a semester-long journal. The children’s written pieces are aimed not only at fostering literary growth, but also helping them deal with the day-to-day challenges they face.
Last night’s program served as the unveiling of a CD of the children’s work. Program coordinator Deborah Gordon-Gurfinkel originally wanted to create a book, but she decided the CD would be more relevant to the children’s lives. The work is set to the sound of the Rebel Grrls, a local teenage group.
“I like it really good because I did work with college students,” said a 10-year-old girl eating pizza after the program. “I liked working with the Rebel Grrls because they’re on your speed, they don’t go ahead.”
To protect their rights, the names of the children were not disclosed.
The program is rewarding for both the children and the students, said Prof. David Scobey, director of the University Arts of Citizenship Program.
“It gives something back to everyone involved,” Scobey said. “The (college) students get the experience of dealing with homelessness and mentoring, while the kids get to work with college students. It builds a whole community.”
Gordon-Gurfinkel, who founded the course three years ago and still teaches it, said the program focuses on getting the children’s voices heard and involving them in the college community.
“The kids have an experience with undergraduates that may break down stereotypes of how we see homeless kids and how they see students who are predominately white, rich, older kids,” she said.
Next year, Gordon-Gurfinkel plans to accept more children from the waiting list, possibly including runaways and older kids.
But not everything goes smoothly all the time — the children still struggle with the hardships of being homeless.
Some children have tough situations in their day-to-day lives. Some are sexually abused, Gordon-Gurfinkel said. Others have come to the program with feces on their clothes, she said.
The children often write about things they deal with on a daily basis on the streets and in the homeless shelters on which they rely, Gordon-Gurfinkel said.
Gordon-Gurfinkel said she remembered a girl in this semester’s program who came into the Telling It classroom in September and said, “I’m not a writer. I love art, but I’m not a writer.”
One day the girl started saying angry things. But Gordon-Gurfinkel said this became a turning point in the girl’s experience with Telling It, as she shed her anger and allowed herself to vent. “She went from a sassy pre-teen to being excited about writing, even getting the smaller kids involved,” Gordon-Gurfinkel said.
LSA junior Max Germain, a Telling It alum, found the experience so valuable that he came back for a second semester.