Blog: What I did this summer... - Alternatives For Girls

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Blog: What I did this summer…

Aug. 28 2012

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Sandra Svoboda

About the blogger: Sandra Svoboda has been a volunteer at Alternatives For Girls for the past two years. She has worked as a writer at the Associated Press, The (Toledo) Blade and Detroit’s Metro Times and is currently a reservist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.With a journalism/history degree from Indiana University and a master’s in public administration, she has taught at Wayne State University (political science, journalism, public relations and speech communication) and Owens Community College (speech). She and her husband have three rescued animals and are avid bicyclists.

How hard could it be to lead 90 minutes of a Creative Writing workshop for a dozen girls, I thought? And the “Turning Books Into Plays” session? Well, that would just be good plain fun, right?

If I have to honestly answer those questions about my summer as a “Rise N Shine” volunteer, I would say “pretty tough but fulfilling” and “fun, yes, but also stressful, chaotic yet extremely rewarding.”

For two years I’ve been the Wednesday evening volunteer receptionist at Alternatives For Girls. I buzz people in the front door, answer the telephone and transfer calls and handle other assorted questions, tasks and surprises. When I looked into volunteering at AFG, I had originally wanted to tutor, but at the time, staff suggested the desk duty. If that’s what AFG needed, that was fine by me.

But several months in, someone found out I was a writer. One thing led to another and I ended up with the Creative Writing Workshop. And somehow, in a moment of weakness at the volunteer orientation, I agreed to turn a book into a play in a second session of camp.

And that all led to six weeks of a strange combination of sheer terror (for me, not the girls, I hope) as I tried to figure out how to blend writing and theater production into some sort of fun formula for the group of 8- to 10-year-old girls.


With generous donations from friends and professional contacts, the girls got composition books. Thanks to the Internet, friends’ suggestions and the girls’ ideas, I think we blended some fun, nurtured some creativity and learned a bit about writing.

They penned stories about colorful or odd photographs I gave them, including one my parents’ dog in a pink hat and figurines outside of a temple in Bangkok. My friend Lorena Craighead, the journalism teacher at Renaissance High School, led them in a poetry workshop. They learned to write about what their senses picked up: what did objects look like, smell like, sound like and make them feel.

And we played dictionary games – writing sentences with alphabetized works “Alternatives for Girls is wonderful,” for example, and seeing how many page turns it took to find certain words as practice using guidewords in the reference books.

One of the toughest things was figuring out how to have writing activities that worked for the girls’ varying abilities. There can be a big range of reading and writing levels in this age group, and I have even greater respect for classroom teachers. But I think I was worried about it more than the girls were. Most of them enthusiastically shared their work with each other, standing up to read their stories to the class and modestly accepting all the applause.


Then there was the “Turning Books Into Plays” session.

I’m not sure I’ll ever again trust Emmet Mitchell, Associate Director of Prevention, after he told me how “simple” and “fun” this would be! And I thought this was supposed to be about the girls, but in retrospect, I think I learned as much as they did!

Among my lessons:

First, on the beginning day, have three books ready for the girls to read and decide which one they want to do as a play. Then make sure the proposed selections don’t overlap with another group, and be ready for a tie-breaker in case the group is evenly split. And do this in ONE day, not over THREE weeks.

Second, write the script with enough parts for everyone and leave gaps for the girls to “write” some of the lines. But in “creating” the parts and the characters, also allow for varying levels of comfort on stage and their ability to memorize lines. Also have positions with props and sets if someone doesn’t want to perform.

Third, everyone should get a costume of some sort.

Fourth, rehearse.

Fifth, understand your own limits and recruit the experts. I could not have created the pink castle that drew gasps from the audience, the rose bush, the varying sized doors, nor the Cheshire Cat panels without Sean Bieri and Andy Groh. Thanks guys!

Sixth, have the girls make some of the sets. They all drew and colored butterflies that we hung from sticks for the garden scene. And then they got to take them home as Rise N Shine souvenirs.

Seventh, carry tape, safety pins and magic markers and have them accessible right up to when the girls go on stage.

Eighth, do not let them see you cry because you are SO PROUD of them when they pull it off spectacularly at the Finale.

So while Alice fell down the Rabbit Hole and found Wonderland, I tumbled into a summer of fun at Rise N Shine. I met some lovely young ladies whom I hope to see again in other AFG programs, and I’m looking forward to next summer. Yes, Emmet, I’ll do it again!

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