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.

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

by Madison Werley

The foundation on which Open Doors was founded is that learning is enjoyable when done by choice, and that teens should have the option to pursue whichever passions they desire.

Our staff believes that those who take control of their education will get much more out of it, which is the guiding principle behind everything we do. We are here simply to assist the teens in their pursuit of education. Sometimes this means through teaching, yes, but more so our staff serves to guide, ignite, support, motivate, and inspire our members. We like to challenge the teens, to push them to be their best and help them make important connections as they explore their desires.

In theory, this all sounds great, right? I wholeheartedly support these ideas, and get inspired myself just thinking about them. But sometimes, it’s a real challenge to put this theory into practice.

Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.
Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.

As someone with an educational background unlike the kind that happens here, I often need a reminder that our members are, ultimately, self-directed. This means I must accept that some of the things exciting and inspiring to me can have the opposite effect on our teens. This means I must accept that sometimes the members will want my help, and sometimes they will simply want nothing to do with me. This means I must accept that the control is not mine, and that the teens have to power to say yes, or to say no. And all of that is not only okay, but encouraged here at Open Doors.

The past few weeks, Rebecca, Jacob and I were planning a mid-winter change of events. We wanted to create a week to switch things up, have some fun, and spend quality time as a group. After a lot of brainstorming on Rebecca and Jacob’s part, we decided on the idea of “Masquerade Island Coup d’etat,” a playful way to remind the teens of the power they hold here, and to hopefully get them to work together to create the atmosphere they want for Open Doors.

After a lot of planning between the three of us, including creating a new game from scratch (not an easy thing to do!), I went into the week with some excited jitters. I was so hopeful that everything we worked on would go over well with the teens, and that they would have fun and bond together like we hoped.

In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some good looks.
In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some pretty good looks.

Well, to make a long story short, nothing went quite as we planned. Our game did not go over well, our plans for Wednesday fell through altogether, and the whole week looked different than we intended. And yet somehow, at the end of the day Thursday, Rebecca, Jacob and I looked at each other, exhausted but relieved, as we realized the teens may not have followed our plans, but instead they took their own path to team-building and working together.

See, the teens really know what they’re doing here. They’re a group of motivated and talented kids, and they know what they’re good at and what they enjoy. These are things that we, as a staff, know and accept, but sometimes we just seem to forget. While we had the best intentions with our plans for the week, we were leaving out an integral part–what the teens really wanted.

But it all worked out. Why? Not because we had it right, but because the teens had it right. Our teens understood the purpose of the week, and though they strayed from our original plans, they found their own way to that point with little need for our guidance, staying true to their self-directed nature.

“Masquerade Island Coup d’etat” was exactly the reminder I needed. There are always exciting and powerful things happening here at Open Doors, even though they often look different than what I am used to or what I expect. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Early October at Open Doors

Have you ever wondered what goes on in some of the classes offered at Open Doors? Our teens are hard at work with some hands-on fun.

Screen shot 2014-10-14 at 2.13.59 PM
The Mechanical Autopsy class practices picking locks on Open Doors’ front door.
IMG_3273
The Mechanical Autopsy class dissects a broken well pump.
A power drill is also autopsied.
IMG_3287
Teens take a break to enjoy the rain.
IMG_3295
The Wild Edibles class visits a sustainable farm and tiny house in Saranac, MI.
IMG_3304
Open Doors member proudly shows off her latest artwork.

Does this look unlike a classroom? Learning looks different here at Open Doors. We would love to show you more–come visit us at our monthly Open House.

Fun in Fall Classes

Fun in Fall Classes

Though our class offering is only a small part of the self-directed learning we facilitate at Open Doors, we often get questions about what our classes are like.  Here’s a small glimpse of the fun:

Waiting for Film Studies
Teens waiting for Film Studies and chatting … on the board are some Critical Thinking and Feeling notes to ponder as they wait …
Duct Tape Stash
Duct Tape Creations — the stash.
Duct Tape Creations
“Paper” airplanes and boats — made out of duct tape.
Lenny the Party Animal
“Lenny the Party Animal” — an eARTh hEaD class creation, using a recycled pinata.
Box Man
Box Man checks his iPod in Critical Thinking and Feeling class.

Learn more at Monday’s Open House at 12 noon — see you there!

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.)

[googleapps domain=”www” dir=”calendar/embed” query=”height=600&wkst=1&bgcolor=%23FFFFFF&src=opendoorsforteens%40gmail.com&color=%235F6B02&ctz=America%2FNew_York” width=”800″ height=”600″ /]

P1090231
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.

P1090232
Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
P1090235
Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
P1090233
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.

Summertime Art

The Open Doors Prizing Your Power Summer Art Program continues.  It’s simply so fun to support teens as they explore different ways to express themselves.  We do it during our regular program, as an alternative to school, and now we’re doing it with our summer program, exploring how together we can create art to enrich our community.  Join our fun and enjoy the photos!

Fabric Art:  Towel Origami, featuring Mythical Creatures

Pink towel elephant
Meet Terry the Pink Elephant. (Get it? Terry? Terrycloth? We knew you got it.)
Towel Loch Ness Monster
Hello Nessie! (Questions we ask ourselves: would a Loch Ness monster made of terrycloth soak up all the water in the lake/loch?)
Towel King Kong
King Kong lives! (Extra Absorbent Version)

Nature Art

Acorns and husks
Nature Art: Starting Small
Goldsworthy inspired
Inspired by Goldsworthy — Nature Art
Inspired by Goldsworthy -- Nature Art
Creating and contemplating …
Parking Lot creation -- Inspired by Goldsworthy -- Nature Art
Art is everywhere and anywhere.

If you’re looking for educational options that respect teens — if you want to support those teens as they explore self-expression — if you’re looking for a community who can help you grow in these directions  — contact us.

Let the Prizing Begin!

The Open Doors Summer Art Program, Prizing Your Power, began today.  This week, we’ll be getting familiar with different media for creating art — painting, fabric, words, and more.  Here are some pictures of today’s goings-on —

P1080520
We doodled while we got to know each other in the Gathering Room …
P1080523
Then it was time to explore with India ink …
India ink
India ink with different brushes …
P1080527
India ink on different papers, plus the start of a canvas piece …
P1080530
Everyone thought it was a great space in which to be creative …
painted mannequin head with chess board
Yep, it’s looking to be a great summer program!

As we all grow more playful and comfortable with our creativity, the plan is to explore how art is power, and how we can communicate our passion through our art to the community.   Stay tuned!

Prizing Your Power is supported in part by the Wege Foundation as part of the Open Doors “Your Life — Your Learning!” project.

 

Slender: The Short Film

It’s here!

Hot on the heels of the world premiere (an intimate screening with family and friends in Eastown at our Festive Finale 2014), the teens at Open Doors now present the Internet debut of Slender:  The Short Film.  

You can read about the history of this Slender project, and about the process along the way.  You can also read our thoughts and concerns associated with the Wisconsin stabbing incident on May 30.

We couldn’t be more pleased with this project and the fun and learning it brought about.   It’s a great example of self-directed learning in action, and it’s what we’re all about here at Open Doors.

Festive Finale 2014

To celebrate the inaugural year of the Open Doors Center, we gathered with families and friends for a picnic and play.  In no particular order, here are some highlights.

basketball
Basketball!
basketball 2
More Basketball!
Food
Food, including vegan and gluten-free options!
one hula hoop
Hula hooping!
Rebecca and Lucy
Our director, Rebecca Kirk. What looks like small horse behind her is actually her dog, a sweet and gentle Great Pyrenees named Lucy.
two hula hoops
This guy! Yeah, that’s two hula hoops. At one point he did 3, and tried juggling at the same time. It didn’t last long enough to get a picture, but we know what he’ll be working on over the summer.
walking in the park
This looks like an innocent walk in the park, but there’s actually a petty crime process — she stole his hat.
water balloon mischief
Water balloon mischief (check his hands).

If play is how humans learn best, then we were learning all afternoon — but all we cared about was the fun!

We wrapped up the evening with yearbooks, a closing circle, frozen yogurt, and a private screening of Slender:  The Short Film.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of the Open Doors Center’s first year — it has been an amazing journey.  Happy Summer, and we hope to see you at our laid-back, do-what-works-for-you Summer Art Program!

Sharing our Shine 2014

Each of our members have their own shine:  that is, something that they love to do, something they’ve worked hard at, and/or something that just makes them happy.  During our last week of the 2013-2014 Open Doors program, we gathered to share our shine with each other.

Wild Edibles pretty table
Our Wild Edibles Class prepared a foraged feast!
Close up Wild Edible
… a feast with a sense of humor, that is. (These are actually delicious.)
Japanese food
One member shared his love of all things Japan by bringing Japanese food.
game theory
It’s game theory time! This member explained his love of strategy and interaction by having the group play a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Skyrim Mod
This member has been creating a mod for the video game Skyrim — he showed us his latest dungeon creations.
Juggling
This guy showed us his awesome juggling skills.
Back Handspring
And one member showed us footage of her back handspring, done in her tumbling class.

In addition, we heard from one member who is learning on the job at an auto repair shop, and one member shared the love of her life, her little dog Chloe.   Staff and parents shared as well — poetry, perspectives on life, a dramatic reading.

We had such a great time celebrating each other.   At Open Doors, we are so honored to be a safe space where teens can share who they are and what they love, without worry that it will be “good enough.”  We love these teens!

Up next — our last day together, dedicated to fun!