Writing with CASH

by Eileen Porzuczek

CASH writers

This summer I was given the opportunity to intern with The Indiana Writer’s Center and their Building a Rainbow summer program. The Building a Rainbow summer program allows youth in the greater Indianapolis area to improve their writing and literacy skills. As interns we work with the students through thought-provoking writing prompts to engage them in writing about their lives. These writing prompts allow the students freedom to actively think and write about their lives.

This summer I worked with the students at the Saint Florian site, a youth camp run by African American Indianapolis Firefighters. I worked with students ranging from elementary to high school. In the mornings I would work with the junior high/middle school students first and then work with the elementary students. Both groups were always full of smiles and ready to write. I remember one piece distinctly that one of the boys wrote about how someone stole his Wendy’s chicken nugget. The amount of detail and imagery the boy used captivated everyone in the room. It was amazing to see the students express themselves and grow as writers.

In the afternoons I would then work with the high school students, or CASH writers as they are called, on their writing. This was by far my favorite part of interning this summer. Working with CASH was exhilarating because in addition to writing pieces they also had the opportunity to perform their writing as spoken word. As the CASH intern I was able to guide them in the writing of their pieces, as well as prepare them to perform their writing in front of an audience.

I remember my first day with CASH, as I walked into the room they all stared at me. I could feel every cold eye following me as I approached a chair in the front of the room. They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. But as our meetings went by we got to know each other better, and I got to see each student’s personality shine. The words they wrote began to flow like waterfalls full of emotion and together they shared their stories. When it came time to perform they blew me away with their confidence to share such personal and emotional snippets of their lives. I absolutely loved working with the CASH students whether it was working on writing/performing or just getting to know each other.

My entire summer experience as an intern with the Indiana Writer’s Center was more than I could have ever imagined. I grew myself as a writer and an individual. I loved working with the students at the Saint Florian Center and hope to be able to see them grow in their writing even more next summer.

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Bearing Fruit

by Alyssa Huckaby

As I sat at my kitchen table with a slice of toast with avocado sprawled on top of a layer of cream cheese, I found myself drawing near to comforting words in a devotional online. The author focuses on how death brings forth life, how the underappreciated can ultimately bring about beauty. She does this through one overarching metaphor: the avocado. I looked down from my computer and to the smear of greens, yellows, and white on my toast. *I am not a fan of food metaphors, quite frankly.

As soon as she spoke of her metaphor, I was turned off. All I saw was a blunt and obvious way to make connections and draw conclusions…something I have worked hard against as a writer, which is not necessarily a good thing to do, but I do so damn well because I am as lost as the next person attempting to write something brilliant. I write words until they no longer string together and fall out of my fingertips to my keyboard. But this writer took a plunge into a new way of seeing the avocado and spoke mainly on the nut. She wrote on the fact that the nut itself is the bearer of fruit; it is the dull, deadness that brings about the color and liveliness we all have grown to love and see. **It is the only stuff we don’t throw away when cutting the avocado, but to save the nut and use it as replenishment was an idea I had never truly thought on.

I looked back down at my plate and saw not only the avocado slices, but the entire avocado unsliced, then split down the middle and bearing the fleshy fruit and it’s round, brown nut. The skin is tough and textured, ready to take on the elements in nature and yet it is still soft enough to puncture with even the pressure of a long fingernail. Underneath the skin is the mesocarp, in between the exocarp and the endocarp. Who knew an avocado could sound so biological, so natural. And the pit, the nut…whatever you prefer; It brings about all of the above. It is a bearer of life and is unappreciated. In comparison to the green fruit that it is awkwardly nestled in, it is the rounded, hardened, browned bearer of life. It’s so easy to get swept into a whirlwind of thoughts brought on by something like a metaphor in a piece of writing. So, I whirl with it and take the ride.

How do I do it? How do I bear fruit and what does my fruit look like?

I am a future educator who won’t necessarily be able to reach every student the way I want to, but my heart will bleed openly and readily for all of them. I will hold back tears and fight battles that are too great for me to handle, but I will do it anyways.

I am an intern and editor for some of the brightest, radiating-with-light humans to exist in this world. They pick up the blue and green pencils, look up at me and into my eyes as if to say: I’m ready to share my story. And some of them do, but some of them don’t always, but I am still there to look back into their cheeky, faultless faces and respond with: I am ready to share your story.

I am a writer struggling to make meaning out of my thoughts. I enter into a daze in front of my screen or paper; I can’t seem t unhinge myself from the frame of everyday life to get the freaking words down.

I am a person who can’t seem to get over the humps, through the fogs, or past the webs in my life. I can’t always make ends meet, I force myself up and out of bed sometimes to sustain what life I realize I am lucky to have.

I am a lover and empathizer who crushes herself with others’ burdens and daily woes by choice. I weep silently under the heap and avoid giving myself personal time when the heap I take on is quite large.

I am all of these characteristics at once; I am a hardened, round pit that is able to plant herself and bear it all at once. And I realize that I am not the only one and the definitions are vast and distinctive for everyone. I am not the most fruitful, nor can many of us be. I am one who, yes, does have her struggles to bear fruit, but some struggle more than I do. I question how I am able to take my own fruitfulness and impart it in a meaningful way.

How do I instill and sustain the life of something so very much underappreciated?

I do this through the youth I work with. An idea so simple that many of us casually think of it through the years, but some of us never embark on that journey with them where they are the nut for majority of their young lives. I plant myself beside them as they struggle to make sense of their journeys. They regress and progress: it is a continuous cycle.

A young writer that I worked with quite a bit bared himself to me. He exposed how disappointed he was in himself and how he questioned whether it was all worthwhile. Willingly and whole-heartedly, I quickly exclaimed yes – but then I thought about his own journey to bear fruit. I sat back a bit and asked him a bit more as to why he felt this way.

“Life is a game. But all those things (characteristics) make me me. And I appreciate me for that.” — Justin

And that was when I was able to see that he was already fruitful. I was able to assure him of that too. I asked him for a hug as I attempted to keep face and not let tears roll down my freckled cheeks, and he agreed and wrapped his arms around my shoulders as I did to him.

I later realized that Justin’s – and many kiddos’ – journeys are undocumented, meticulously avoided by people older than them. These kids may have never been able to realize just how much they have rooted themselves in their actions and their thoughts; that their reactions to life plant them. They are kids whose lives are much more complex and drawn out than I might have realized before my education and career path. I’d like to think that I would have the same feelings with or without those two components, but my experiences have allowed for me to truly understand their positions in life.

They are the pits. And they are fruit-bearing…all of them.


*There are few instances where I have seen food enacted as a solid, beautiful metaphor in creative nonfiction. We all attempt it as writers. One of them being in Jill Christman’s “The Avocado”, which pulls tears from the depths of me, even when I thought there were no tears to be had. I have read this essay at least 20 times (most definitely read it while writing the drafts of this essay/post) in the past two-ish years and continue to let the metaphor and image of the avocado appreciate with the trials of my own life. That’s what a good metaphor does: it sits in your stomach and works its way through you.

**Avocados have always been a part of my life (as vague and peculiar as that sounds). My mom always attempted to feed me slices of avocado or guacamole. It wasn’t until I let my taste buds be the ruler of my eating that I grew a likeness and fondness for the fruit. It then became a part of my life, daily: it was my job for 3 years where I served and sometimes made guacamole. I was always in the front of house, but occasionally I would be allowed to work prep in the back of house where the avocados were the main event. I washed them, cut them in halves, scooped out of them, and threw their skins away. The pits were knifed out of the middles of the fleshy fruit by a freshly sharpened knife. The meat was the only part that everyone expected and saw; mashed and mixed with cilantro, red onions, lime juice, and salt. I mainly use avocados for garnish or in guacamole, but occasionally I will slice one open and eat it with a spoon and some salt.

The Joy of Teaching

by Audrey Bowers 

It was my first day interning for the Indiana Writers Center, which I had looked forward to for an entire year. I was excited and nervous. If I weren’t keeping myself still in one spot, I’m sure I’d be jumping up and down from the caffeine in my morning coffee. I’m sure the other interns felt something like this too or at least that’s what I told myself.
I saw an ocean’s worth of yellow Saint Florian t-shirts along with brown faces smiling back at me. “Don’t be afraid,” I thought to myself, “they can smell fear.” I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but I wanted to do the best and be the best for these kiddos. They deserved it. Also, I wanted that itty bitty piece of nervousness to subside, so I could feel nothing but excitement as I worked with these kids.

After prompts were delivered, I stumbled upon three girls at a table that didn’t have another intern there to help them and I decided that I would be the intern that would help them. They were about ten to twelve years old and they decided to write to the prompt: “Since you ask, I’ll tell you why I’m so angry.” I personally loved this prompt and the way that my fellow intern Kayla wrote to it. I had a feeling deep inside me that I would love what these girls were about to write since something just clicked with them. They had ideas for what to write about in practically an instant.

These girls blew me away with their writing. It felt important. Their voices were loud and proud on the page. I was upset that these girls had to deal with such difficult things, but I was proud of them for finding the courage to write about what hurt them the most. They wrote about bullying and racism that they knew all too well. I listened to them, gave them suggestions for what they could write next, and affirmed what words they already had written down. All three of these girls ended up with at least a full page of writing and I ended up with a heart so big and full that it could burst.

I felt like I really knew what I was doing for once and that I was doing it well. I imagined a life full of writing and teaching boys and girls just like the ones surrounding me. I was content.

Sad to See it’s Over

IMG_1073By Cassidy Langston

Following my last days at Saint Florian and Sanctuary this summer, I can’t help but feel a little sad. I never thought I would have gotten so attached to so many kids in such a short time, but after sharing some of their most personal, private thoughts and stories, how could you not love each and every one of them?  I entered this program nervous and completely unsure of what I was walking into.

My first day at Sanctuary went way better than I had anticipated. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about how successful we would be asking kids to write during their summer vacation, but after day one I knew I had nothing to worry about. Our youngest writers were just about to start kindergarten and some were unable to even write their names, but still they told us stories about loving their family, being a Michael Jackson fan, and all about the things that make them special. I got to hear a lot of stories about things like playing sports or eating Domino’s pizza at school in the beginning, but once we shared some of our own personal stories, the kids followed suit. We heard stories about going back and forth between divorced parents’ homes, losing loved ones, and times when they had to be strong.

I think often times we forget that kids experience difficult times and face challenges just as we adults do. So many kids this summer wrote about the losses they’ve experienced, times that they had to stand up for themselves or others, and when they had to be extra strong even if they were hurting. I am thankful that these young authors decided that I was someone worth sharing their stories with and that I got to be a part of helping them share those stories.

 

 

More Energy than a Shot of Expresso

IMG_4429by Isa Escobio

I have been to two sessions with the amazing teens at La Plaza, and two sessions were enough for me to realize that these kids give me more energy than any shot of espresso. The kind of excitement that these teens have instilled in me is unbelievable. I am so selfishly excited to experience watching them grow, and learning from everything they have to share in these coming weeks. These young people have so much drive, and their enthusiasm to share the culture and stories that have molded them is truly empowering to them and to us as mentors.

With only a few hours of total time spent together thus far, the students at La Plaza have managed to quickly find comfort in connecting with students who have similar experiences. The kids then use that newfound connection to encourage the sharing of unique stories that celebrate diversities. I am still not sure which is better to experience: watching the students quiet with averred concentration as they try to get every part of their story on a piece of paper, having small conversations in between the writings that cultivate relationships and spark story ideas, or the final, pure, and honest stories that they write and share with us.

Perhaps the best of it all is the experience that comes from combining everything together, and I could not be more excited to come back every Monday and Wednesday and meet with this group of blooming writers! Remembering just those two days that I’ve had with them fills me with a strange energy, one that makes me excited for Mondays.

With this being my first year involved with this amazing program, one of my greatest hopes is that when this summer ends and a book filled with amazingly raw, innocent and honest stories comes to the hands of any reader, they can truly feel the excitement that these kids and teens have to share their stories with them.

 

 

 

Sharing their Stories

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by Matthew Del Busto

I walked into St. Florian for the first time with the first-day-of-school kind of knot in my stomach, the typical mix of excitement and nerves. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical—memoir writing? Shouldn’t these kids be writing about dragons or something? How much, I thought, does an eight-year-old have to remember, anyway? It turns out—a whole lot.

While there was some of the usual hesitation to writing (one girl immediately started the classic “why I do not like writing” piece), I was awed by how eager they were to write and share their stories. It seems like picking which story to write about was a problem more often than finding one to write about in the first place. Their stories varied widely, ranging from funny—a sister pouring milk on an X-Box, asserting the need for hot lunches at camp, to serious—working over nerves to give a speech in front of a big crowd, having a gun pulled after a silly prank.

I started making conversation with three guys, all in the middle-school age range, and worked out with them what they wanted to write about for the day. One of them, Tristen, had a huge smile on his face and was joking from the get-go, but quickly went into the zone and started writing. When I went back to check on him ten minutes later, he looked to be finishing up. He answered the “I’ll tell you why I’m angry” prompt and wrote a powerful piece about his frustrations with people who judged him for his weight. He asserted that “everyone is different….Just cause someone doesnt look how you want ‘em to look don’t mean you have to judge.”  Tristen’s story moved me both in his strength to overcome peers who put him down and even more so in his bravery and honesty in sharing his story. In fact, he was so eager to share his story during Author’s Chair that he rushed up to sit at a table at the very front of the room so he’d have a better chance of being called on.

In a world that so often seems to silence young voices, I marveled at just how many stories they wanted—and needed—to tell. Even if it’s just a couple times a week during the summer, the opportunity these kids have to write goofy, honest, moving stories about themselves in an environment free from red pens, obsessive spellcheck, and grades, and complete with encouragement, laughs, and smiles, has power beyond belief. With just a pencil and a sheet of paper, it’s amazing the stories they all tell.

A Year Louder and Prouder

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by Lauren Brown

After returning to the Building a Rainbow program for a second summer, I didn’t think the stories could get any better than last year.

But the thing about kids—especially these kids—is they never stop astounding me.

I walked into the familiar building at St. Florian on my first day back, antsy to see my buddies from the summer before. I was a little nervous that the kiddos who made such a lasting impact on me wouldn’t remember who I was. Ridiculously, I was worried that they wouldn’t be as enchanted with their own stories anymore—that another year of school, maybe a negative interaction with adults or the world around them, might have somehow stifled their enthusiasm.

I should’ve saved my worried energy, because as soon as I walked into the cafeteria, familiar faces wore familiar smiles. An excited air filled the room. However, my heart fell a bit when I saw one of my good buddies, Jeremiah, wearing an uncharacteristic frown on his face with his head on the table. This is a kid who wouldn’t have sat still last year for all of the Doritos in the world—he was always dancing, running around, spreading playful energy. I sat beside him, asked how he was doing, and let him warm up to the pencil and paper I placed in front of him. They start by writing his or her name and age. There’s something powerful about writing your name on the page—only you own your story. And at these kids’ young ages, they aren’t usually given a microphone, and there aren’t many things they have ownership of—but the stories they have lived are theirs and it’s so important to give them the floor to tell their stories loud and proud.

I floated around to a few other tables and when I looked back to Jeremiah, I recognized the buoyant little boy from last summer. Once he was given a pencil and paper and a safe space to own his story, his enthusiastic self returned.

The next week I sat down to transcribe a story by Jeffrey, another one of my buddies from last year. He talked about his mom, about how she passed away and how “it is so, so sad and it is so, so sad and I was crying really, really bad.” With tears welling up in my eyes, I kept reading the eight-year-old boy’s story. He talks about the passing of his uncle, his mom, then a line separates where he begins to talk about his girl friend and his sister and how much fun he has with them. At the end, he wrote in a seemingly string of consciousness, mentioning how much he loves writing with us:

“…it’s fun and I can help people and I love love it and I am so so exsided about what we will do next and it is very fun to me becase I love writing…”

In a world that sometimes hushes voices that need to be amplified, I wondered if my St. Florian kids would stop believing in the power of words and the power of their stories. Now more than ever, their stories have more weight and meaning. They need to be amplified even louder.

Unbeknownst to him, Jeffrey’s account somewhat illustrates the name of the program, Building a Rainbow—rain with his mother’s death, finding light in his girl friend and sister, and the little “pot of gold” lines of how he loves writing—altogether his story forming a metaphorical rainbow.

After only a few days of writing, these brilliant, hilarious kids have shown me that they’re a year louder and a year prouder. And by reading their stories and watching them transform when handed a pencil, I’m reminded just how important it is to give them the floor.