New Beginnings: Enhanced Program and Goals

By Assistant Director Jacob Sabourin

Open Doors has made great progress over the past year and our outlook on the future is brighter than ever. I feel grateful for all the support The Geek Group and the Grand Rapids community at large has provided to our department, and I would like to thank everyone who has allowed me the opportunity to do this work full-time, and to attend the annual Liberated Learners conference in Massachusetts this summer, where I learned a truckload from professionals doing the same work as Open Doors in other parts of the country and the world. But this article is not about the past. This article is about the future.

This summer we’ve been holding Wednesday workshops in several different subjects: chemistry, computer autopsy, robotics, and digital storytelling, to name a few. They’ve gone great so far: we’ve brought many fresh new faces into The Geek Group National Science Center, and the reviews we’ve received from our guests have been outstanding (A’s and A+’s all around)! If you’re interested in more workshops this summer, please sign up at

These summer workshops are the beginning of a new stage in Open Doors’ existence. While much has changed over the past year in our transition to becoming a department of The Geek Group, it’s looking like change is remaining a constant here.

For the past several months, we have worked to establish five Pathways for our teen members to choose as they develop their educational plans. Each Pathway is supported by an Advisory Council of local experts who guide the vision and content of each program. Our four pathways are:

  • Pre-College

  • Technology

  • Art

  • Environmental Studies

Physical fitness and service learning will be components of all four pathways. As always, all education at Open Doors is self-directed by teens, both individually and collaboratively, which means that ultimately teens choose what they are learning on a day-to-day basis. We hope families will see these pathways as guidelines for structuring their educational plans, but we also see these pathways as a method of connecting teens to a network of professionals in their respective fields of interest. We plan to provide our teen members with a fully-developed professional network as they enter into adulthood.

Our full fall class schedule will be ready and available August 31. Until then, our tentative schedule can be found at

Open Doors will have a much more focused program this fall, but it will also be much more accessible for member families going forward. With the help of the Liberated Learners network, we will have a fully-functional E-Portfolio system through which we will offer several services to our member families:

  • Portfolio – a sleek, professional program with which members will document their daily work, post photos and videos, blog, and which they can submit to universities as part of a college application.

  • Support Reports – detailed monthly notes sent to families regarding the progress of each teen member’s educational progress.

  • Action Plans – a checklist system by which members can track and manage the progress of their projects and classwork.

  • Class Management – a tool for members to communicate with mentors and advisors regarding specific classes, featuring links and other materials.

Essentially, the E-Portfolio system will be a new method for maintaining the relationship between Open Doors staff, teen members, and their families.

I hope you can see at this point where Open Doors is headed. This year, we are offering more opportunities for teens to get into the community and make a difference. We are offering more opportunities to meet and learn from professionals. We are offering more opportunities to document and show all the incredible learning that happens at Open Doors. We expect our membership to double and even triple soon, so we are offering a greater and more diverse community. Open Doors is growing in a plethora of ways. As we continue to build this community, we will always need your help. If you would like to join us in developing this community of learning, please email me at, and remember: it takes a village to raise a child.

An Amazing Partnership

By Rebecca Kirk

2015 – 2016.  What an incredible year of learning and growing.  By April of 2015 we had realized that our space at 1324 Lake Drive was not adequately serving our mission to provide support for self-directed, engaged learning to teens regardless of their ability to pay.  Though we were able to offer some tuition subsidies, a large part of our finances were required to pay rent. We looked high and low for a more affordable space in which the teens could feel free to express themselves creatively without always needing to be mindful of our professional office building neighbors’ desire for quiet, but to no avail.

By summer, some of the teens were meeting with us weekly in area parks to explore the outdoors together and to develop their leadership skills as a Teen Advisory Council for the development of Open Doors, allowing it to become even more youth-directed.

Meanwhile, Maddie, Jacob and I spent many hours exploring foundations for grant possibilities and also ways of collaborating with other teen-centered organizations.  Without having located space nor funding by September, this small, dedicated group of teens and families agreed to meet temporarily in the basement classroom of my home.

One morning in late September, on a whim, I drove to The Geek Group to explore the possibility of affordable meeting space in their large building on west Leonard.  With no appointment, I was miraculously able to immediately obtain an audience with Chris Boden, founding member and President of the organization.  After listening to my story of Open Doors’ mission and principles, along with our current situation, Chris instantly recognized Open doors as the educational arm that had been an unfulfilled piece of The Geek Group’s mission since their beginning, 20+ years ago.  On the spot, he offered Open Doors the option of becoming The Geek Group’s education department and me, this education department’s director.  I must say I was rather bowled over.

We began transitioning into the space at The Geek Group almost immediately and officially became a part of the organization on January 1, 2016.  The longer we are here the more I realize how right Chris was regarding the alignment of our missions.  The Geek Group was established to support and encourage people to learn and express what they are passionate about, regardless of their financial situation.  They do that primarily for adults.  Now we are here to offer that to teens.  Open Doors is indeed extremely fortunate to be an integral part of this unique organization. Please explore The Geek Group’s website and like them on Facebook. And then stop by on a Saturday at noon for a free tour of the building and see what mad science you yourself can be up to!

I’m also very grateful that our teens were willing to make this huge transition with us. It was a valuable, real-life learning experience for all, requiring adaptability, creativity, and the development of social/emotional skills as we interfaced with this new culture.

Beginning in January, the stability of our new location allowed superb opportunities for learning.  Within this stable environment, with the input of the Teen Advisory Council, new learning adventures began to emerge.  These included Cooking Club, Big History, Kinder Being, Career Exploration, and Art Studio.  Independent projects developed, such as Animation Exploration, Giant Skateboard Creation, and Dirt Bike Maintenance, while tutoring was employed in learning Algebra and Biology.  The teen-directed year-end trip to Chicago was a crowning jewel to our year of learning and exploring new horizons.

Our adoption into The Geek Group has provided accommodations, overhead, incredible physical and human resources, and tremendous encouragement to pursue our mission.  This has freed us to more fully develop our program offerings, structure, and advisory role. As a result we have seen remarkable learning happening with our teens including:

  • Teens learning and fully engaged together in what they wanted to learn
  • A visible increase in social/emotional intelligence, and
  • Critical thinking skills
  • A huge increase in self-confidence and ability to openly express their thoughts and ideas.

In addition, instead of paying rent, we were able to use Open Doors funds to hire Jacob Sabourin full time as assistant director and to send him to Massachusetts for the annual Liberated Learners Conference resulting in empowering professional development.

Thank you so much to Chris Boden and The Geek Group for providing all your support which made this possible.