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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Am I the student or the teacher?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

(Photo)
Jamie Barrand
Anyone out there who is a fan of the classic television show "Friends" will remember the episode in which Phoebe attempts to find and carry out a selfless good deed.

Her reasoning is that because the person doing the good deed always ends up feeling really good about it, no good deed is done simply for the greater good.

I thought I'd found something I could do that was selfless, but like Phoebe, I discovered it made me feel really good.

I'm a member of the United Methodist Church. In our faith, we talk a lot about spiritual gifts, and about the fact that everyone has them and that it's our duty as Christians to share them with others.

One of my strengths is writing. For a long while, I pondered how I could take the talents I have for using the written word and parlay them into something beneficial.

I'm in Kiwanis with Terry Armstrong, Megan Oblack and Beau Battin, who all work for ResCare Residential, a facility geared toward at-risk youth. Children are placed at ResCare for a variety of reasons --sometimes they are ordered by the court to be there because of something they did; sometimes they are placed there because of something that has happened in their families.

Over the past year or so, I really became intrigued with the work being done at ResCare, and with the stories of the youth that resided there.

I did some stories, but decided I wanted to do something with the youth on a more personal level.

It struck me that one way I might be able to do this would be to marry my passion of writing with my desire to get to know the youth at ResCare better. I asked Megan if she thought I might be able to teach a six-week creative writing workshop at one of ResCare's homes.

Megan was thrilled with the idea, and set about doing what had to be done to make it a reality.

Last night, I sat down with a group of nine young men who currently reside at ResCare's Challenger House -- my first creative writing workshop group.

The young men, all of various backgrounds, ranged in age from 14 to 17.

They gathered around eagerly, armed with compostion books and pencils.

I was amazed at the variety of interests they had. One young man -- a quiet, introspective boy -- told me he liked to write poems. He said he wrote different sorts of poetry, and that he enjoyed both rhyming poems and blank verse.

Another boy, who was charismatic and always willing to share his thoughts, told me he was a "rapper," and that he played the trumpet and liked to write songs.

Still another boy told me he was interested in learning more about creative writing because he'd heard you had to be able to write a good essay for college applications.

As I drew him out a little more, he told me he liked crime scene investigation shows as well as non-fiction crime books. He enjoys doing research and unraveling mysteries.

I was struck by what an inspiring group of young men I had the pleasure of meeting, and I became enthusiastic about what the next five writing sessions we'd have together would bring.

Some of the boys were hesitant to write, thinking I'd be checking their work. I assured them that creative writing wasn't about everything being perfect. It wasn't about using all the correct grammar or about perfect punctuation.

After all, I reasoned, e.e. cummings didn't use capitals.

If they didn't want to share what they had written in their notebooks, I told them, they didn't have to. They didn't have to show it to anyone, not even to me.

I encouraged them to find their own muses and processes. One boy wanted to know if he could listen to music while he wrote. I told him of course he could ... creative writing was about finding what inspired each of them individually. There was no right and no wrong.

We did some exercises, and I showed them how any simple thing could be used as a jumping off point. For instance, I had them write down what their favorite dessert was ... then I asked them to write about a memory they associated with it.

They took off with that idea, some of them filling two of three pages in their notebooks.

I am certain this experience is going to enrich me in ways I can't even imagine. It is my hope that I can give these young men something they can take with them; something they can hold on to and keep.

Something that is their very own and that no one can ever take away from them.

I hope, in some small way, that I will end up being even a fraction of a blessing to them that I know they will be to me.

Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic.