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.