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Western Avenue Youth Center, Blank Canvas & ATK 380 - Art & Community Development

By: Geeb
On: December 19, 2010

One day while sitting in his office, my graduate adviser John Walker notified me of a community volunteer opportunity.  A man named Dick Folse was looking for fresh recruits to help teach underprivileged youths the Adobe Creative Suit and other software at the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington, IL.  Some community activists, along with Folse, helped pave the path for a new program that would kick-off in the coming weeks, Project Blank Canvas. This initiative had been realized by a $100,000 State Farm grant offered to the community centers surrounding Bloomington-Normal.  At this point, I was a lab instructor, volunteering two days a week at Western Avenue. I showed young youths how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design and some basic web design fundamentals.

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A sketch created by one of my students.

My time spent volunteering opened up some more opportunities.  Dick Folse had offered me a job as a teacher for a digital arts summer camp through Blank Canvas.  I jumped on the opportunity immediately. Luckily, I was able to work with my roommate Philippe Moore and friend Johari Huggins. With a small team, I helped teach a classroom of over 20 youths and got to know first hand how hard it was to control a room filled with kids. Needless to say, I have a new found respect for teachers who have to manage classrooms.

After this experience, I was informed by Dick about a course he was teaching during the Fall 2010 semester, ATK 380 Art and Community Development.  This would be a hands on teaching experience with a small group of college students, much like that of the summer camp, but on a smaller scale.  We learned about the power of social capital, how to develop lesson plans, and how to teach.

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A Photoshop mock-up by one of my students.

The Takeaway

Too often are professionals and students dumped into a community they know little about and rarely do they have an opportunity to make a real connection. These experiences allowed me to do just that.  I feel more comfortable in Bloomington-Normal than I do in my own hometown, and I am perfectly fine with that realization. It is empowering, humbling, and just plain exciting to make a difference for kids who desperately need a mentor.

Click here to download my paper summarizing this experience.

Click here to view the (somewhat broken) Google doc version.

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