Open Doors Introduces The Geek Group

By Jacob Sabourin

Things are changing fast at Open Doors. It’s a good thing.


In our last blog post this summer, “The Future of Open Doors,” Maddie and I detailed our two-year progression from an upstart homeschool resource center to a Youth-Driven Space. We are now proud to announce the next phase of Open Doors’ existence: our absorption into The Geek Group.


The Geek Group is a non-profit educational organization based in Grand Rapids with more than 26,000 members worldwide. It is the largest non-profit makerspace in the world. Moving forward, we will function as a department of The Geek Group out of their makerspace located at 902 Leonard St. NW. For more information about The Geek Group, visit their website at


So what’s great about this move?

  • Open Doors will function exactly as it always has. We will continue to provide teens the opportunity to self-direct their own learning, work on their own projects, build a community amongst themselves, and make impactful decisions within that community.


  • Teens at Open Doors have a new space to make their home-away-from-home. And it is cool. Instead of an office building, teens will now have room to make messes, explore a labyrinth of rooms teeming with robots, 3-D printers, pool and air hockey tables, art and music studios, and Tesla coils. Open Doors itself will be based out of an old chemistry lab in the building.


  • Our teens will have access to a whole slew of human resources at The Geek Group. This includes the entire 26,000-plus member base, of all ages and demographics, who are all working on their own projects and have their own areas of expertise. Some Geek Group staff members have already begun classes with our teens in animation and creative writing. The possibilities for further connections within The Geek Group community have only just peeked over the horizon.


  • Open Doors teens are currently working on a project called Kinder Being, an effort to bring diversity and anti-bullying education to elementary and middle schoolers in Grand Rapids. The Geek Group is already providing an outlet for their ideas.


In short, the move to the Geek Group will provide teens a heretofore unseen opportunity to get messy, make mistakes, use their imaginations, and grow as learners and people. We are excited to begin this new chapter in our quest to provide a new kind of space for teen learning and community in Grand Rapids.


If you have any questions regarding The Geek Group or any other changes happening at Open Doors, feel free to email Jacob at or Rebecca at

The Future of Open Doors

Written by Jacob Sabourin & Madison Werley

Open Doors is facing some changes in the near future. Big, exciting, and perhaps overwhelming changes.

At the end of Spring Session this year, our lease at the Carlton Building was up, and it was time to make a decision whether or not to renew it. After much discussion we decided to start the search for a fresh space for Open Doors to call home. In the midst of our search, we received disappointing news: a grant we had been hoping to receive had been declined. Our financial situation was looking bleak.

The same day, Rebecca received an email from the Neutral Zone, a teen center in Ann Arbor. Their video below left us with goosebumps, and we realized Open Doors had the opportunity to serve teens in ways we had yet to fully realize.

So we visited the Neutral Zone, and witnessed their Youth-Driven Spaces model in action. We saw the incredible and impressive things the teens there are up to, and their pre-established model inspired us to develop a similar culture that would work for our own teen members. We spent the next few weeks working alongside our current teens to devise a plan for the future of Open Doors. Our conditions?

  • Be inclusive of teens of all backgrounds, whether they attend school or not.
  • Keep our mission of improving the lives of self-directed teens in Grand Rapids.
  • Give our members the power to create innovative programs of their own choosing.
  • Allow teens and adult staff to work together to make decisions on behalf of Open Doors.

We believe these changes will benefit the Grand Rapids community in ways heretofore unimaginable. By extending our services into after-school hours and flinging wide the doors to teens of all backgrounds, we will give them a safe, empowering place to call their own. We will be providing a youth community center, created and led by teens, for all teens.

This summer, Open Doors staff will attend a training session at the Neutral Zone on how to effectively create a Teen Advisory Council. We hope to establish our own Council to meet weekly throughout the summer to develop Open Doors into the kind of space teens in our area both want and need. Our current members decided they would like to spend these casual meetings around campfires, trekking through the forest, and otherwise adventurously traipsing.

Are you or a teen you know interested in joining us on our adventures to create an awesome space for Grand Rapids teens? We could use your input! Contact our Program Director, Jacob Sabourin, for more information or to get involved.

If you’re passionate about our mission and what we’re doing, you can also assist Open Doors through monetary donations, volunteering your time, or offering in-kind gifts for our space. Every bit helps!

Thank you for your continued support, and make sure to check back often to stay up-to-date on our progress.

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Fall 2014 — Classes And Open House!

(Save the date:  Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.  More below.)

We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.

Love these amazing teens.
Yes, even this guy.

During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not.  Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester.  Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)

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Film Studies with Bruce Winegar.

We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends.  It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.

Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
Rebecca Kirk, Director, crafting and talking with teens on a chilly September day.

Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself!  We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner.  You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin

Check out our fun interview with Shelley Irwin of the WGVU Morning Show.  You’ll hear about Rebecca’s journey and the founding of Open Doors.  It was such a pleasure to talk to Shelley — she’s always a joy.

Left to right: Amy Carpenter Leugs (Outreach Director), Shelley Irwin (WGVU Morning Host), Rebecca Kirk (Director and Founder of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens)

Eastown Street Fair

We had a great time at the Eastown Street Fair, talking about the Open Doors alternative to school to some very interested neighbors.  The Book Fairy joined us to give away her free books, and we developed on-the-spot free learning plans for folks.

Our Open Doors booth in front of the Hookah Lounge at the Eastown Street Fair.
We’ve had a perfect view of the Bangarang Circus Aerial Artists!
Our yard signs, chilling at the Street Fair.
P1090240 The Book Fairy was a hit with all ages.
Free Learning Plans
Lots of folks stopped by to hear about self-directed learning.
Flying in the silks — an aerial artist from Bangarang Circus
It was a great day at a great booth!

Open House: What is Self-Directed Learning for Teens?

Open Door Header

We help families reclaim the joy of learning — our teens are taking back their educations, building skills and self-confidence, and learning who they are and what they have to offer the world.  

How does it work? Come talk to us!  Have a tour of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens, look over the current class schedule, and ask all your questions. See you there!

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 12 noon

1324 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids, MI 49506

1324 Lake Drive close

Open House: Learn About a Self-Directed Education

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Have you been wondering what we do at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens?  Come find out!

A community gathering at Open Doors.

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

We’ll give you a tour, answer your questions, and talk about the upcoming fall semester.  Are there some classes your teen would like to see offered?  Let’s see what we can do!

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Need to get your hands into your learning? Here’s our hands-on dissection class from last year.
Want to get outside and learn in the real world? Our Wild Edibles class last year foraged foods to share!
Skyrim Mod
If you learn from video games, we can support that, too!

See you at the Open House!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens

Dear Friends of Open Doors:

It’s been a busy summer here at Open Doors.  With your support, we’ve offered a fun summer art program to some very deserving teens and sparked their creativity. Thank you!

Maria Goldsworthy
Art with Nature — part of our Summer Program

We’ve also been gearing up for our Fall semester — it’s Not Back to School time!

We’ll have new incoming members this fall, so we’re lining up member-requested classes like Mechanical Autopsy and Duct Tape Art.  

Duct Tape Fun!

Our popular Critical Thinking and Feeling class is set to continue, with its emphasis on fun and non-violent communication, led by Adena Koslek.

Teen Instructor and Coach, Adena Koslek


We’ll also continue our Film Studies class, led by local director and film enthusiast Bruce W.

Bruce and kids on Brick
Bruce, with popcorn, watching the movie Brick with the teens last year.

We’re also offering new classes like Japanese, Political Science, and Hands-On Algebra.

Of course, Open Doors teens choose which classes they’ll take (and whether they’ll take any at all), so the list will change as the semester gets closer.

As you know, classes are only a small part of what we do here at Open Doors.  We look forward to checking in with each and every teen member.  We’ll listen to their goals and questions — we’ll dream with them as they consider how they want to learn at this moment — we’ll laugh as we brainstorm options and imagine possibilities together.  We can’t wait!

We are literally doing back flips. Well, one of us is.
game theory
So excited!

Will you help us spread the word?  Share this article, come by for one of our new yard signs, tell your friends with teens about Open Doors, or join our team of volunteers — we’d love to have you involved!

Enjoy the rest of your summer ~

Amy Carpenter Leugs, Outreach Director

Amy and tree
Amy Carpenter Leugs

Searching for Summer Camp?

Summer Program Cartoon
Searching for Summer Camp — Comic by Adena Koslek 

Prizing Your Power

This Open Doors Summer Camp is like no other.

Create Art.  Change the World.  All in Six Weeks.

Who:  Any Teen in the Grand Rapids Area –  Age 12 to 18

No Previous Art Experience Required

When:  July 22 to August 28, Tuesdays through Thursdays, the center will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Come participate as much or as little as you want — you can still have your lazy summer days and make great art on the side.

What:  Collaborate with other teens to create art for community display during Art Prize.  Channel your passion for a social issue into powerful art. We believe that everyone can express their passions, whether or not they consider themselves artistic.

Come find the artist within!

 The Prizing your Power Summer Program and this post are part of the Open Doors “Your Life! — Your Learning!” series, brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.


You Can Help Teens with a Summer Program Scholarship

Recently, Sarah Monley wrote to us.  Sarah is an intern for Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest adoption and refugee agencies in West Michigan.

Sarah wrote: “I’ve done some research on your summer program and it seems like this would be a great opportunity for some of our refugee youth to join with local youth and become part of the community in a fun, artistic way.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Refugee Foster Care at Bethany Christian Services

As Sarah says, many of these teens are in tight financial situations, and so they aren’t able to afford the program fee that we need to cover costs.  Can you help?

Your donation can help two refugee teens find a fun way to be part of their new community.

Make your tax-deductible donation now!