San Francisco WritersCorps
I wonder how my mommy’s
feeling, all alone out there.
At least I have her nice warm
belly to keep me safe in here.
But when my time is over,
and I come out to play,
Will Daddy be there waiting,
or will it always be this way?
So concludes a poem by 18-year-old Loren Smith, a student at a school for pregnant minors and a participant in a San Francisco WritersCorps workshop. Although the poem begins playfully—it is written from the viewpoint of Smith’s unborn baby looking through a “belly button window”—it also expresses Smith’s feelings of vulnerability as an unwed mother facing the impending birth of her child.
And, that is exactly the point of the 16-year-old San Francisco WritersCorps program: to help participants experience firsthand the power of writing as a tool for exploring—and expressing—their thoughts and feelings about what’s going on in their lives and in the world around them.
Accomplished writers teach free workshops in libraries, schools, community centers, immigrant immersion programs, and juvenile detention facilities to accomplish this goal. Since the programs are located in some of the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, with large immigrant populations, these classes also help participants gain fluency in the English language.
During the course of the workshops, which last anywhere from 10 weeks to a full academic year, students read a variety of literary genres, write numerous assignments, and discuss each other’s work. Some students also participate in public readings or compile anthologies of their creative efforts for publication.
All of these activities help to strengthen the participants’ sense of identity and self-esteem. “A lot of young people get messages that they’re not good enough, that they’re bad kids, and some do not have happy home lives,” explains Program Manager Melissa Hung. “But through writing, they’re being given permission to express themselves. To share what they’re experiencing and observing and to have their peers respond in a positive way can help build confidence. It can be very powerful.”
“Poetry changed my life. Without poetry, I wouldn’t be as confident in front of other people, or even as confident in myself. When you’re alone—thinking and writing—you really get to know who you are.”Eric Foster, high school student and WritersCorps participant