“In 2009, Cecile Fehsenfeld, the owner of Schuler (Books and Music), asked me if I wanted to help her open a writing center similar to 826 (National),” Slager said, referring to the national nonprofit literacy organization. “I didn’t know anything about nonprofits, though, so I started doing a lot of research and talking to as many people involved in the nonprofit world as I possibly could and learning as much as I could.”
The result is the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, a nonprofit that uses writing professionals to teach students writing skills through one-on-one instruction, mentoring and project-based learning. The students learn creative and expository writing, and their work is published in a bound anthology.
The owner and operator of The Sparrows Coffee, Tea and Newsstand that opened in 2007, Slager had been thinking about beginning a tutoring center for years, but didn’t have the expertise or experience in nonprofits to be able to immediately leap in. However, her connections in the community enabled her to gather support and people willing to volunteer as tutors.
“In the first TEDx Grand Rapids, I met a bunch of people who got really excited about what we were doing, and when Katie Caralis (the center’s volunteer coordinator and program director) came on board was when it really started moving faster,” said Slager.
Currently Slager and the Creative Youth Center are working to take over the space formerly occupied by the Literary Life bookstore at the corner of Wealthy St. and Eastern Ave. in Grand Rapids. In the interim, the center holds programs at the Baxter Community Center, Cook Arts Center and Grand Rapids Public Library.
“It feels almost like you’re getting involved for selfish reasons because the kids are so great and think you’re the coolest person in the whole world,” said Slager.