Wednesday, November 28, 2007

9/27: Taking a Deeper Look..

This week we started out with a fun activity that fuses descriptive writing and an insightful look into each other.

Taking a deeper look!

We started this week with a Descriptive Essay…but not just any descriptive essay. We are making Character Descriptions. And who are the characters? Us!
We decided to put all of our names into a hat and pick students and/or volunteers from group to creatively describe. After we secretly picked our names the group sat in a contemplative state looking for the depth in us all. Everybody loved the idea and had fun determining how to describe not only physical characteristics but more importantly, what lies beneath the surface. It was truly an eye opening activity. Through this we discovered that our diverse group of young people think highly of one another and found a plethora of positive attributes to highlight and discuss.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

9/19: And so it begins!

We started our ‘official’ new year as Cabrini Connections Writing Group, Wednesday September 19, 2007. And we couldn’t be more excited! First we regret to announce that our beloved Meg has moved to Arizona. We were sad to see her go, but we’re so proud of her and will keep in touch.

This year we’re changing things up a bit. At our first meeting we passed out new notebooks and plenty of stickers and gems to decorate with. While the ladies were decorating the books we talked about goals we’d like to achieve for the year. They jotted down their goals and we discovered we have some motivated individuals on our hands! Tajeria would like to start applying for college scholarships, Eboni would like to score a 25 or higher on her ACT test, LaFaye would like to not only have an A+ average but would also like to finish writing her story! Mercedes and Namieka would like to stay focused on school, while Vontesha would love to learn a little Spanish!

This year the notebooks are serving a higher purpose. At the end of each group the notebooks will be collected for Jen and Shannyn to review and positively reinforce the girls with comments and feedback. We also write the girls our own notes and they write back to us! We’ve also implemented a reward system. Points are rewarded for attendance, activity completion, and group participation. At the end of each week, we’ll tally up the points and determine a writer of the week! And at the end of each quarter we’ll have a pizza party and let the girls ‘shop’ with their points. For example, if you have 200 points you can trade them in for a Target Gift Card or Museum Tickets. The girls loved the idea and we can’t wait to see them rack up those points!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

7-11, 7-18: Story writing!

7-11, 7-18

We kicked off our summer meetings with a focus on story writing! On 7-11 we went to Oz Park on Armitage and Halsted, set up blankets, and did some “imagination exercises.” Some of the exercises asked students to write about their lives; for example, “name 15 things you see outside of your house.” Or: “think of a song that brings back strong memories. What song is it? What kinds of feelings do you associate with the song?” Then, some of the exercises asked students to make up stories, or little scenarios. One example is: “Through the laundromat window, I see….” The point of doing the exercises was to get students’ creative muscles working and give them inspiration for writing their own stories (real or imagined).

On 7-18 we continued with the exercises and talked about possible stories. Marcus will be writing about his “block.” Eboni will write about a song that triggers a memory of a past boyfriend. Victoria is also writing about a song. LaFaye is writing a fiction story from a young girl’s perspective that describes the girl searching for her mother, who is never around. TT is writing about a song that brings back strong memories of her uncle who passed away. We talked about different elements of story writing such as what draws the reader in and how to be descriptive. I tried to help the students narrow down their story ideas—to write about a moment, or an event, rather than trying to capture too much in one story. They got some words on paper, which was great! They will be working on their stories on their own time and next week, we’ll look at first drafts and work on revising!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Year end dinner story: it's all about family!

Before we move on to our summer meetings, I wanted to post a re-cap of the year-end dinner...

With the theme of “This Is Just the Beginning,” the Cabrini Connections family gathered for the year-end dinner on June 8th—celebrating students’ accomplishments and looking toward the future.

With his words and his spirit, Jabar taught us about destiny. A graduate of CC and college sophomore inspired younger students to stay focused. Then Eboni, Tajeria, LeFaye, and Victoria from the writing group performed an improv and poetry skit about seeing “The Color Purple.” They head-bobbed, showed us attitude, and reminisced as the audience laughed and went along for the ride.

Courtland and Ana kept things running smoothly as students, volunteers, and special guests met each other and chatted over dinner. We listened to India Arie, and a slide show of student memories played in the background (thanks Roman!). Over dinner, we introduced ourselves and shared our diverse experiences working with the kids at CC.

After dinner, proud parents took the mic to share their kids’ experiences with the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one crying as one father told us that “it’s not always easy raising kids and keepin’ them smellin’ nice.” But with the help of CC, he’s given them a future. He thanked the CC “family,” extended special thanks to Dan, and inspired us with his heartfelt words.

Dan built on the theme of family in his seven minute speech (Ana had given him five :)). The reason Dan could talk all day is because he’s committed to CC—in both his words and his actions. He talked about the beauty of so many diverse types of people coming together to make CC a success and reminded us that we’re not just an organization, we’re a family. He encouraged us to keep looking to the future and staying connected to CC.

Rebecca talked about the future ambitions of the IYP Video Club and showed us a preview of the full-length documentary that members had produced. Courtland and Ana announced student awards and passed out prizes to the deserving winners!! We clapped for graduating seniors Jabar Norman, Kevin Stanfield, and Terika White.

With the spirit of CC, these students would be moving on. But as we had learned throughout the evening, you never lose touch with family; their accomplishments would live on through the younger students who’d be a part of the family for years to come. So when we left for the evening, we knew we’d be in contact soon—to continue doing the homework, making memories, and together learning what it means to succeed.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The "Color Purple"

Our big event of the year was seeing the "Color Purple" at the Cadillac/Palace theatre! Thanks to McHugh Construction and a private donor, we were able to eat at the Italian Village and attend the show.

At dinner we ate shrimp cocktail, calmari (not a big hit), salad, bread, pasta, more pasta, cheesecake, tiramisu, and brownie sundaes. Some of the girls were brave enough to try espresso, but I don't think they'll ever try it again! Our waiter Mario gave us incredible service, and the highlight of the dinner was simply getting to know each other better. The girls told stories and more stories, and there was no shortage of laughter!

We cabbed it to the theatre and watched a powerful performance of love lost and found, strength, and courage. What was really neat about the show for Jen and I was to watch the girls being inspired. The female characters were strong and powerful in spirit; in a group full of girls, we thought this was the perfect message!

5-23, 5-30: Scripts for Year-End Dinner!

We've been working through ideas and coming up with some entertainment for the year-end dinner! We encouraged the girls to present something that would represent their unique voices and experiences...after drafting different ways to express ourselves, we've decided to combine improv and poetry. The girls wanted their performance to be somewhat scripted but "live" enough to entertain the audience. Next week we're going to a coffee shop to practice performing our words!

See everyone at the year-end dinner!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

5-16, Writing for year-end dinner!

This week, we started brainstorming about what we want to say at the year-end dinner! Jen led the meeting and had the girls come up with memories we've created in the group and talk about what the group means to them. She started with a one-line description of the group and passed the paper around. Each member wrote a tidbit describing the group in their own words. We'll be using this as a springboard to work on poems that members will perform!!

5-9, Letters of Change

Last week we had one of our most inspirational meetings. We had never seen members so focused and passionate about an activity! The focus of the day was how we could write to make change in the world. We talked about the power of the written word and how our own words could get things done, help us achieve things, help us help others, and get "things" (like the donations we've been getting....anything we've gotten donated to us was the result of using words and letters to put our message out there!). We wanted the kids to find issues that they wanted to fight for and use their own words to make change.

To figure out what everyone was passionate about, we started out with the question: "What bothers you in your life?" The girls had a LOT to say, and they all listened with respect to everyone's ideas. Some of the issues girls brought up were things at home (miscommunication, wanting closer relationships with family members) and things at school (the way teachers talked "down" to them, the lack of care they've seen in some of their authorites, etc..). We talked about how to approach these issues productively and talked about possible avenues of change.

Tonight we picked up from last week's conversations and figured out a place to start. Several members suggested writing letters to teachers that have inspired them. We figured starting with the positive things in life was a good route, and so we wrote....Members wrote letters to past or present teachers, which we mailed as an end of the year gift! The more we talk about issues affecting the girls, we hope to find a collective cause that we can address....with our words, and down the road, our actions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

5-2, Blog Exchange

5-2, Blog Exchange

Dan recently pointed out a Vermont mentoring program that cited our blog (and the Cabrini Connections main blog) as an example of what blogs can accomplish! The Three River Valley Regional Business Education Partnership mentoring programs creates diverse mentoring opportunities such as facilitating weekly lunches/meeting with mentors and youth, giving youth the chance to spend time with senior citizens, and matching mentors with juveniles who’ve committed crimes, to ensure that they get on the right path. Marie Gelineau, Executive Director, and her staff are publicizing their efforts to reach out on their new blog @ We are thrilled to have a blog connection, and we’d like to share some of the great things that our blog has helped us to accomplish.

(1) Showcasing student work! Our group is of course 100% voluntary, and we’ve been amazed at the kids’ high level of enthusiasm! As we build a community, we’ve tried to create fun and meaningful activities for the kids….as we help them focus on different writing tasks, they’ve produced some amazing work. We’ve posted their work on the blog and talked to them about what it means when their work goes “public” (you can search their names on google and the blog shows up). This gives the kids a sense of accomplishment and encourages them to be more focused.

(2) Showing potential donators what we’re about! As we’ve reached out to the community and asked for donations, we always cite our blog! It helps give a “face” the kids’ efforts, as well as gives a sense of professionalism to our group. The more people that visit our blog, the more resources we can garner. We’ve written letters to newspapers and local restaurants and talked to anyone and everyone about our group! The blog is a tangible means of showing what we do.

(3) Creating connections with other mentors. The blog helps us create relationships and opens up communication lines with other mentors and volunteers (in Cabrini Connections and other mentoring programs). When face-to-face meetings and interactions aren’t possible, the blog indirectly opens up communication lines :).

Friday, April 27, 2007

4-25, Blake Palmer Art Gallery!

Tonight we visited the Blake Palmer art gallery, located on Wabansia and Ashland!! The gallery contains all types of paintings and sculptures. The owner was gracious enough to give us details about each piece, as well as tell us about the different artists’ backgrounds. We looked at all the work, reflected on our favorite pieces, and took pictures….

Special thanks to Colin Palmer for having us. The trip was the group’s first art event! It was a new experience for all of the students; we could tell they loved it.

Also, special thanks to Tom Li for taking 3 writing group members and two mentors to the Bulls’ first playoff game last Saturday. We all had a great time :). Go Bulls.

On the horizon: we’ve secured our “Color Purple” tickets for Saturday, May 19th and are in the process of making plans for the big night! Thanks to McHugh Construction for their generous donation.

4-18, Response to Don Imus scandal

Our activities tonight revolved around the Don Imus scandal. We had an open discussion of Imus’s recent firing that resulted from a broadcast in which he (and his producer) called the Rutgers Women’s basketball team “some nappy headed hoes.” First, we passed out a news article that described the whole scenario in detail; we also discussed some recent Oprah episodes in which the hip-hop community responded to claims that they’re responsible for normalizing derogatory attitudes towards women—in the Black community, and in all cultures.

We had members come up with a list of slang words used to describe women and talked critically about the different “levels of offensiveness.” The girls had some insightful things to say as far as who can use certain words, how they’re used, when they’re used, etc. We had them freewrite about their response to Mr. Imus and the hip-hop community. Then, members turned their freewrites into persuasive letters (geared to Mr. Imus, to be posted on We talked about what it means to write a persuasive letter and encouraged members to construct purposeful, respectful letters. We’re also going to use this type of “public” writing to move into research projects in which members find a cause they want to support, research it on the Internet and through other mediums, and then use their writing to make some kind of difference.

**Here are some excerpts:

(1) From Tajeria Beacham:

Dear Mr. Imus,

I honestly believe that you didn’t mean any harm about your comment to the Rutgers basketball team, but to women in general it’s offensive, even when rappers use it in their lyrics. Not only when whites use it to me and many of my peers anyone who calls females out of their names is very disrespectful by all means….

There’s a huge difference in the black community when female friends call each other b’s but not to go as far as h’s (hoes). Even though black women and women of all races are disrespected and are given bad reputations in rap lyrics that still doesn’t give anybody of any color to call women HOES. Comments to women are about them I believe today rappers want a visual of themselves so they become disrespectful to women and that’s not cool. I believe even though I’m black many blacks are disrespected by both female and women that’s why many people my age aren’t stressing the issue.

(2) From Eboni Rivera

Dear Mr. Imus,

I think the comment you made was stupid and ignorant. You hurt those girls feelings and then have the nerve to say that it was just a joke or a comment. I feel you were racist towards the black community and the women in the black race. In my thought though I do feel it’s a double standard. You feel that if people in the black race can say it, then white people or any other race can say it. There are different sayings of that word “hoe” or “bitch.” Most girls call there friends it. They see them at school, coming down the hallway, “what’s up h, or what’s up b?” But when a boy or someone else says it we get offended. Different rappers rap about these women and call these women all kinds of things. It’s wrong for them to say it, and it was wrong for you to say it. Point blank.

Friday, April 13, 2007

4-11, Gifts of Writing

This week we worked on “gifts of writing”—to others and to ourselves. The concept behind this activity is simple: often we have things to say to our loved ones, but we don’t take the time or energy to say them. On the same note, we often have things we need to say to ourselves, but we go about our daily lives without digging deeper. “Say things to ourselves?” the kids asked with a weird look in their eye. “yeah, like if you stuff your emotions, or if you have dreams that you want to accomplish, try to bring this things out from your gut,” I told them.

On this note, we turned on B96 and we wrote. Before we would compose letters or poems, we had members draw feeling maps that represented specific things they would say to someone else. Then in their journals, they wrote to boys, mothers, fathers; one girl even wrote to her future son or daughter (and promised us this wouldn't happen for a long time!). After writing to someone else, we had the group start brainstorming about what they wanted to say to themselves. They started with the following exercise:

The greatest joy in my life is _________________
The biggest lack in my life is_________________
I worry that ______________________________
My biggest dream is _______________________
If my dreams come true, my family will _______
If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that ___________
I’m happiest when _________________________

Just doing this preliminary exercise was a profound learning moment; members talked about what they wrote and got ideas from each other. They also talked about boyfriends gone bad and confrontations at school. I encouraged one “chatty” :) girl to channel her energy into something creative, which resulted in an eloquent letter to her past boyfriend! Now this is what learning looks like, I thought to myself as hip hop played in the background...

Next week we’re going to polish our letters and wrap up the activity. Members will decide whether or not they will actually give their letters to their loved ones. We’re also going to have a drawing which will allow two lucky members to attend a Bulls playoff game with Tom Li and Meghan!

Monday, April 2, 2007

3-21, 3-28: Sharing and Writing about Our Vision Boards

On 3-21, we spent more time finishing our vision boards! We tried to get everyone to add extra detail and creativity to their boards. The 2 members that finished their boards the first week moved onto freewriting activities.

On 3-28, we started with going around the group and having everyone hold up their vision board! Each person described what they had displayed and why they chose what they did. We also had them describe what path they plan on taking to achieve their visions. To get members to dig deeper into their “visions” and think about tangible steps they could take in achieving their dreams, we had them freewrite about exactly how they plan to get where they want to go (this is the hard part, right?)…. We also began writing individual profiles for the blog…stay tuned and get to know everyone better!

On a separate but related note, there was a lot of energy swirling around our meeting tonight. After we simmered down, the mentors could only think that all of this energy will get channeled into something creative and amazing. Some way, some how!!!

We look forward to meeting new people at the open houses this week....

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

3-14: Vision Boards: Where We're Going...

Tonight we had Giordano’s pizza and started by talking about some field trips we might take. Some ideas we came up with: go see “The Color Purple” on broadway, go rollerskating, and go to the salon! So far members have been writing about their lives; Meghan, Shannyn, and Jen want to create new experiences for them, which will definitely give them plenty to write about (thanks to Tom for his help networking!).

Our activity tonight was very hands-on! Building off last week when we created poems about “where we’ve been,” this week’s focus was “where we’re going.” We created vision boards (collages) to represent things we want out of life. We cut out pictures, words, and phrases from magazines and drew symbols and sayings in order to create a visual representation of some of our dreams. “They” say that to get what you want out of life, you have to envision it first.

Here are some of the things we see in our futures:

Love, family, nice cars, diamonds, more love, travel, sisterhood, careers, and fancy shoes!

Some specific expressions from the boards are:

Si, me llamo Eboni

X-Press myself!



Perspective: some things are worth sharing

Singing and dancing is my thing

Open Road

Living Chicago

Forever Love

Model Citizen

Wifey material babe!

I’m young and sexy

A welcome home

Next week we’re going to share the boards and use them as a springboard for some writing activities!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

3-7, Our Poems: Where We've Been

We modeled these poems and lyrics after Mary J. Blige's "Take Me As I Am." These words represent our hearts; they give a glimpse into "where we've been."

She is slow
Everyone calls her a hoe
she's a good girl

When she on the block
they say she suck cock

I been feelin' like shit
I told my boyfriend my biggest secret
he snapped
I don't think he loves me no more

I been left behind
I out my mind
because I had a lot of deaths in my family

I done found relief
I been left at peace
Cause I know that they’re gone into a better place

She’s been thru a lot
She’s been left to rot
Because her mother was on drugs

All her pain is gone
And their relationship is strong
Now they are like two love bugs!

I’ve been through the tough things since the age of four
Didn’t take long for me to feel hurt and bad for what I had endured
By the age of 14, had my very first love of my life
Times passed, grew apart, felt such hurt and sorrow
Graduation day, so relieved, almost didn’t happen
But that little hit doesn’t mean anything at all
Good times always come and go, jut let it flow the way it goes.

I’ve been through some stuff
Chics talking buff
She’s been fighting constantly

I’ve been feeling guilty
Talking to dudes and hurting them deeply

I’ve been feeling sad
Trying to act all bad
When she’s hurting deep

I been scared a lot
I been left behind
I been hurt before
I been happy and sad
I been left alone
I been called names before
Like you “yellow bitch”
I been fighting too much

She’s been told she was wrong
That she wasn’t that strong
She knew one day she would leave

She finally had enough
She proved she was tough
She has so much more to achieve

She’s been idealized
She’s been prized
But they can’t really see in

She’s been on her game
She’s been proving her name
A strange dreamer, she keeps livin’

Monday, March 5, 2007

What we've been doing in our kickoff meetings!

So far we've had three meetings; the first two meetings we did some fun ice breakers so we could all get to know each other. We want it to be a safe, trusting environment because we know that sharing writing can be a difficult thing to do. So far we KNOW the girls (and guy) have heart and lot of jokes up their sleeves! We've had some good laughs, some overly rowdy moments, and some poetic writing...

Now that we're getting into the actual writing activities, we'll blog after each session to report where we are in the creative process and what we've written. Last week we analyzed the first two stanzas of Mary J. Blige's song "Take Me As I Am":

She's been down and out
she's been wrote about
she's been talked about constantly

She been up and down
she's been pushed around
but they held her down NYC

First, we talked about what the lines mean. The girls vibed with this because they all knew the song. Then, we analyzed the language more closely to see what Mary's lyrics were "doing." The girls noticed the rhyme schemes and how Mary used "she" instead of saying "I." We talked about why she decided to do this, and then we worked on composing our own mini-songs about where "we've been." This is so hard, but we made some progress. This week we're going to pick up where we left off, continuing with the theme of "where we've been."

Who we are: not your typical writing group :)

We are a hip new writing group at Cabrini Connections! We meet every Wednesday from 5-6 pm to share food and stories about our lives. The group was started by Meghan Bacino, Jen King, and Shannyn Nellett to provide an outlet for Cabrini students; we believe that the written word is a powerful form of expression, and somewhere along the way someone has inspired us to write and dream bigger. We've joined forces with CC to help kids express themselves, and we have some pretty lofty ideas of what we can do with their writing!

Based on the kids' interests, we're going to write genres such as journal entries, letters, song lyrics, poems, and short stories. Meghan and Shannyn write mostly creative nonfiction, and Jen is creative with visual forms of expression. We plan to bring in a diverse crew of writers to add different flavors of expertise (ie: screenwriters, rappers, fiction writers, etc). We're doing a lot of networking, and we plan to keep the activities fresh, fun, and meaningful!!

Some of our long term goals are to (1) have some of our members perform at the year-end dinner; (2) build a compilation of student work; and (3) look for other publishing/performance venues. It will take time and practice, but so far so good. We've already seen a lot of heart and humor :), and we love working with the kids!! Once we get a core crew, we will have the students add their own profiles to the blog.