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.

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.

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Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
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Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
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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.

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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)

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!

Community Collaboration with Goodwill Industries

Real learning in the real world is such an important principle at Open Doors.  That’s why we’re happy to share a story of our collaboration with Goodwill Industries, a non-profit with significant positive influence in our community.

As described in Learning with Slender Man, our Critical Thinking and Feeling class is working on a short scary film.  They went to Goodwill to pick out costumes and props for the movie.  When we called ahead about our trip, the staff was happy to accommodate us and make room for our photographer, Lori, to take pictures.

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Thank you to Goodwill Industries and Moments by Lori Ann.

The class was careful to respect other customers and their privacy.  They were delighted to find low-prices on costumes and other fun items.  The world is our classroom, a place where budgeting, creating, and cooperative problem-solving all happen naturally — thank you to Goodwill Industries for being a part of that.

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Working together!

(Note:  If you are concerned about the May 30 stabbing in Wisconsin and its relevance to Slender Man, please see our statement here.  Our thoughts are with all the families and communities involved, and we hope for a complete and speedy recovery for the victim.)