Anne Hensley and Emily Kastner hit it off the moment they met in a writing workshop — so much so that they put their heads together to come up with a way to bring the power of words to Kalamazoo. The two co-founded Read and Write Kalamazoo in 2012. Hensley is the group's executive director and Kastner serves as its director of education.
RAWK brings together professionals in education, writing, and publishing, as well as current undergraduate and graduate students and volunteers from the community to give students the opportunity to develop academically and creatively. Kids from preschool through high school participate in writing workshops, get opportunities to publish their work, go to reading events, receive one-on-one tutoring, and attend seminars.
Kastner says, “I was living in California for a short time when I learned about the 826 organization, and I was inspired to start something similar when my family and I moved back to Michigan.” Eight Twenty-Six is a nonprofit organization that offers inventive programs to underserved children that encourage them to read and write. Members of 826 also became mentors for Kastner and Hensley.
The two talked about opening a tutoring center and the idea for RAWK was born. The Vine Neighborhood Association sponsored the new effort and helped it get off the ground.
This summer from June through July, RAWK offers volunteer training and various writing workshops for all age levels. While the workshops cost $125, Hensley says, “no one is turned away if they can’t pay.” Donations can cover costs for those who can’t afford the fees.
Hensley says, “We also have a longer-term project that we are doing with Communities in Schools, called Literacy Buddies.” “We pair up high school students with elementary-aged students. It’s a large project with 60 students at this point. It’s a semester-long program and at the end we will publish something with them and have a big reading event at Bookbug.”
Hensley and Kastner have many stories to share—about watching young students discover their creative voices, about the joy in a young person’s face after seeing their work in print and on a bookshelf, and finding a way to express feelings that have been pent up too long.
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